One of most forgotten lighthouses on New York’s Hudson River is the Four Mile Point Lighthouse, appropriately named because it was four miles south of the Coxsackie Lighthouse and four miles north of the Hudson City Light Station that is now known as the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. What you are about to read is the most complete history of the Four Mile Point Lighthouse, published to date.
The first lighthouse built at Four Mile Point was a rubble stone tower in 1831. It lasted until 1880 when it was replaced by a 25-foot tall round cast iron tower that was painted red with a black lantern room.
The earliest known keeper that we have been able to document was Stephen Winans, who served at Four Mile Point Lighthouse from at least 1835 to 1841. Interestingly, two of the lighthouse keepers who served here both lost a leg in combat, but in two different wars.
The first one-legged keeper to serve at Four Mile Point Lighthouse was Jeremiah H. Winney, who lost a leg in the Anglo-American War of 1812 at the Battle of Lundy Lane, which took place on July 25,1814, in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war, and one of the deadliest battles ever fought in Canada. Many years later, while visiting Hudson, New York, General Winfield Scott was introduced to Jeremiah Winney as one of the former soldiers who served under his command during the war and the General invited him to visit him in Washington, D.C. When the General learned that Winney had lied about his age when he enlisted at the age of 15 and then lost his leg at the age of 17, the General gained a real interest in helping him out and subsequently secured for him the job as the lighthouse keeper at Four Mile Point Lighthouse, which he was officially appointed to in 1844.
Although Jeremiah H. Winney did his job well, he was a Democrat, and when General Zachery Taylor won the Presidency of the United States in 1849 as member of the Whig Party, keeper Jeremiah H. Winney was fired, simply because he was not a member of the Whig Party.
Winney was furious at being fired, especially by the former General and now President who had also fought in the War of 1812. He even wrote to his former commander, General Winfield Scott, for help, but the General could not help him. Newspaper accounts of the time reported that Jeremiah Winney then travelled to Washington, D.C. and personally presented himself to President Taylor. But President Taylor would not give in to a Democrat, not even one who had lost a leg in the war.
So, in 1849, William Van Vleet took over as the keeper of Four Mile Point Lighthouse, and the following year he was credited with having the best kept lighthouse on the Hudson River.
In the meantime, former keeper Jeremiah H. Winney became well known on the political circuit, especially at large Democratic Party gatherings. As reported in the August 10, 1852 edition of the Republican and Patriot and the Boston Post, a story with the following headline got some big attention: “A Hero of Lundy’s Lane and His Treatment by a Whig Administration.” The story was about Winney’s appearance at a mass meeting of the Democratic Party held in Newburg, New York where it was reported that “Jeremiah H. Winney, a hero of Lundy’s Lane was introduced upon the speaker’s stand, and greeted with a Niagara of applause.” However, his popularity did not help him to get his light keeping job back and in 1853, Stephen Post became the lighthouse keeper at Four Mile Point, but only for a short time; he was replaced that same year by David R. McCarty who was the keeper until 1857 when James Buchanan was sworn in as President of the United States. This was good news to former keeper Jeremiah Winney. After being gone for eight years, he got his job back as the keeper of the Four Mile Point Lighthouse.
For some reason in November of 1863 Jeremiah Winney was replaced as the keeper by the only female known to have served as a keeper at Four Mile Point, Annie Jerome, but she only served for three months when Jeremiah Winney returned again as the lighthouse keeper and continued to hold the post until 1867.
The longest serving keeper was Moses Walters (born Nov. 30, 1843), a Civil War veteran who fought at Gettysburg and he was the second keeper to serve at Four Mile Point who lost a leg in combat. Moses Walters and his wife Julia had four children. His son Harry was born in 1895 at the Four Mile Point Lighthouse. Moses Walters served for 27 years, from 1869 to 1896. When he died on July 6, 1915, at the age of 71, he was buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Athens, New York.
In 1909, veteran lighthouse keeper Michael T. Burke, who had been the head keeper at New York State’s Eaton’s Neck Lighthouse from 1879 to 1909, took over as the keeper of Four Mile Point Lighthouse.
Prior to Eaton’s Neck Lighthouse, he had been a lighthouse keeper at Sandy Hook East Beacon Lighthouse in New Jersey from 1874 to 1879. Just like former Four Mile Point Lighthouse keeper Moses Walters, Michael Burke had also fought in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. He was a member of the Company I of the Ninth New York State Militia and served as a signal corpsman. During the Battle of Gettysburg he was taken prisoner by the Confederates and held captive until the end of the war. As well as being a lighthouse keeper, he also served as a Captain in the New York National Guard. In 1917, at the age of 75, he retired as the keeper of Four Mile Point Lighthouse, bringing to a close his 42 years of employment in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
The Four Mile Point Light Station was officially deactivated in 1928, and shortly thereafter the tower was demolished, and the keeper’s house was eventually sold into private ownership. A 1928 article in the Stamford Mirror gave the following report: “The Four Mile Point Lighthouse, near Coxsackie, one of the oldest landmarks along the Hudson River, is dark for the first time since it was constructed many years ago. The old beacon is situated 3 miles south of Coxsackie on the high rocky bluff which juts out into the rivers channel. Until a few years ago it was tended by a keeper who lived in a picturesque stone cottage near its base, but with the changing of the lamp for an acetylene light, the office of lighthouse keeper has been discontinued and a new light of the same type has been placed south of the rocks on the unused docks of the former Brewer Ice Company.” Apparently, this was either incorrect reporting, or the plans of placing a light on the docks of the former Brewer Ice Company never materialized, and the 1880 tower was instead replaced by a skeletal structure with a light mounted on the top of it that stood on the banks of the Hudson River.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2018 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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