The fact that the remains of New York State’s Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse are still standing is a miracle unto itself. Abandoned by the government in the early 1900s and left to the elements, the old wooden structure where the keepers once kept the light has long ago rotted away. For some strange reason, the framework is still standing, although barely, and still holds up the old lantern room.
We did not include Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse on the Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses in our January issue because we felt that the lighthouse was beyond being saved. However, a large number of readers wrote to us and, while they all agreed the lighthouse was beyond ever being saved, they all asked for the lighthouse to be included on the Doomsday List.
It was by special permission from the British and Canadian governments that Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse was allowed to be built by the United States in the mid 1800s on the Canadian side of Lake Erie. In later years the border was changed so that the lighthouse would be in U.S. waters.
The lighthouse was not the most hospitable of stations for a keeper to be assigned. While many lighthouses provided housing for their keepers, this was not the case at Horseshoe Reef. Until 1907, when a new keeper’s house was built, the keepers were required to find their own housing. Although the structure at Horseshoe Reef could accommodate overnight stays, it was not designed for long-term living.
Many of the early keepers did not stay long at Horseshoe Reef. Sixteen keepers resigned, a number of others were removed, and others only stayed long enough to apply or hope for transfers to other lighthouse stations.
Thomas Joseph, the last person to serve as the head keeper at Horseshoe Reef, was more tolerant of serving at this location. Joseph arrived at the lighthouse in May, 1902 as the first assistant keeper and was promoted to head keeper in April of the following year when Frederick Lawson was transferred to become head keeper at the Niagara River Range Light. Thomas stayed at Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse for nearly 20 years until the lighthouse was discontinued.
In May of 1907, Edward Herman arrived at Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse in the position of 1st assistant keeper under head keeper Thomas Joseph. Herman came to the lighthouse with lots of experience in working for the government, having worked for the United States Revenue Cutter Service sailing on the Lot M. Morrill. Herman and Thomas must have liked each other and worked well together. Little could they have realized in those early years that Edward Herman would go on to serve at Ohio’s Marblehead Lighthouse for 30 years and be the last head keeper of the United States Lighthouse Service to serve at the famous lighthouse.
It was Edward Herman’s interest in photography that saved and recorded a large part of lighthouse life for future generations, not only at Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse but, perhaps more importantly, from his 30 years at Marblehead Lighthouse. Much of Edward Herman’s life and that of his family has been saved and recorded thanks to the efforts of Rebecca Lawrence-Weden who recently shared these photographs and others with us.
We can only wonder what the keepers of Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse would think today about what happened to the lighthouse.
Because of its inhospitable location, we doubt that any of them would be surprised. However, it would safe to assume that Edward Herman would be proud to see how well Marblehead Lighthouse in Ohio where he served for so many years, has been preserved so well and is now a popular tourist attraction.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2011 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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