My great-great-grandfather was Horace G. Holloway. He was an honorably discharged Civil War Veteran. He had been in charge of the men and field pieces upon the unveiling of the “Goddess of Liberty” statue on the Capitol’s dome. In 1883, he was appointed Light Keeper of Horse Island Lighthouse in Sackets Harbor, New York.
In 1911, my great-great-grandfather Holloway officially resigned after 25 years and four months of service with a commendation from the Light House Board. It was at that time my great grandfather George H. Ward was officially released from his position as light keeper at Crossover Light Station to assume the position at Horse Island. In May 1920 my great great-grandfather Holloway passed away.
My grandmother, Ruth Ward (Sullivan/Youngs) was born on the island in 1907. She had four brothers and two sisters. Several of her brothers were also light keepers on the Great Lakes.
I have heard many stories about living there. In the winter, they could only go to school if the water was frozen over. From the shore, they would walk or use their only horse to get to the school. They had a few farm animals and, of course, a vegetable garden.
When the children went outside for anything, they were required to put on a life jacket. Funny thing is, my grandmother never liked the water. She was afraid of it; yet they lived on the island year round.
The logbooks I have seen are very precise. Each day the weather, wind direction, and water conditions were entered. If my great grandfather left the island for any purpose, it was recorded in the books. Any work that was done like painting, polishing, and repairs to the house or other buildings was also documented. The birth of my grandmother was also found in the logbooks.
My grandmother kept an “Important Events” book, consisting of newspaper clippings. It begins on March 29, 1924. There are articles from World War I and local events. There are quite a few relating to Sackets Harbor. I have also seen a diary she kept, of various water accidents, involving the station.
Fortunately, I live in my grandmother’s house. It is approximately 30 minutes from Sackets Harbor. Every year my family and I went there for picnics. I remember the first time we walked down the road that follows the water. I saw the whole lighthouse. It was exhilarating, yet strange. I think I was there about 30 minutes, taking pictures from every different angle! You always saw the tip of the tower from the battlegrounds, but it was the first time seeing the house.
I inquired of the lighthouse. It was then that I found out it was privately owned. I was a little disappointed, but kept a positive attitude. Eventually, I contacted the owner. I told him of the family history on the island. He agreed to take my mother and I over to see the island and the lighthouse. To my mother, it was a dream come to life. She heard so many stories growing up from her mom (now deceased). She could envision her mother there as a child, reliving all the stories she remembered. She was teary-eyed from joyful memories. Her grandmother’s last wish was to go back to the island, the place of her birth. Obviously it never happened therefore my mom fulfilled it for her. For me, it was very eerie to think my grandma used to sleep there. The thought that she ran around there gave me chills.
The house is still the original structure; however, a porch has been added. There are still a lot of snakes just as grandma had told us.
The lighthouse is not operational, but the tower is still there. It was quite a difficult journey to the top but definitely worthwhile. The top of the tower was very small and narrow. It is still quite a sight! There is still an air of dignity after all those years. I had the feeling of solitude and peace while on the island.
At some point in the future, I would like to spend a week or two there on the island. I know my mother was enlightened by the experience. It is something she will cherish her whole life. For me it was a part of my heritage revisited and brought to life my reality. All those stories and books can actually be visualized. I am now able to pass the stories on to my own children and make it real for them too. I am grateful my family is sentimental and close, or all of these family memories might have been forgotten, but now they are shared with the world.
Sackets Harbor a/k/a Horse Island Lighthouse
Location: Horse Island, Lake Ontario, west of Sackets Harbor, NY
Light Established: 1831
Current tower built: 1870
Owner: Now privately owned
Open to the public: No
Viewing: Can be seen from the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site
Shipbuilding center during War of 1812.
Site of two famous battles during the War of 1812
1st U.S. Great Lakes steamship built here.
Site of Fort Volunteer
Site of Fort Pike
Imperial Biscuit Co manufactured dog biscuits here until 1940
As an army officer President Grant and his wife lived in Sackets Harbor.
This story appeared in the
May 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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