Editor’s Note: In November of 1899 Lillie E. Munro wrote the following story that appeared in the Christian Herald magazine. We felt the story was so poignant that we have republished it in its entirety. However, we have added additional photographs with additional information in the captions to enhance the story and provide a more complete history of this true account of a visit with lighthouse keeper Nancy Rose that takes place at the Stony Point Lighthouse on the Hudson River in Stony Point, New York. (It is not to be confused with another New York State lighthouse by the same name that is located on Lake Ontario.)
As there are big and little churches, so there are big and little lighthouses - some that meet the mighty waves of the ocean, just as the big churches meet the dangerous waves of wealth and luxury, and some that warn of treacherous rocks and shallows on the river’s peaceful banks.
Of the smaller and latter kind is the lighthouse at Stony Point, New York. It first sent its rays across and up and down the Hudson River in 1826. In those early days, nine lamps and a silver reflector stood guard over the lives and interests of the men and boats upon this waterway. But now one lamp, in a fine magnifying globe, takes their place. The lighthouse and the cottage in which the keeper lives are built inside of the ancient fortifications, which were baptized with the blood of patriots and soldiers during the Revolutionary War.
A fitting keeper for this historic spot and light is Mrs. Nancy Rose, great granddaughter of Jacob Rose, who was with Anthony Wayne when this fort was recaptured in 1779. The morning I visited the lighthouse and its keeper was one of rare autumnal loveliness. The lighthouse stands white and solid on the hill top 179 feet above sea level. The keeper’s cottage is very pretty, painted white and gray, and surrounded by a picket fence which encloses a little garden in season full of red and white and yellow dahlias.
Mrs. Rose came forward to meet me with a kindly smile. I found her to be a typical American woman, true even to the small dust of the balance of her public trust, and fulfilling with equal rectitude the no-less-important duties of a Christian mother and housekeeper. In her seventy-fifth year she climbs the steep steps to the lighthouse tower with no uncertain tread, and even in the descent and ascent of the hill to the fog tower, where the fog bell is, she hardly uses her staff. Every Sabbath, summer and winter, she may be seen in her seat at the Presbyterian Church of Stony Point, for, as she said, “I love to go to the house of the Lord, because he has been my help and my stay through all the years of my life.”
She led me into a parlor whose windows face the Hudson at one of its most beautiful, though most dangerous points, saying as she placed a chair for me, “I have just finished churning.” She was as neat as if she had just finished dressing, and the whole house was exquisitely clean.
“You see,” she continued, “the first thing I do in the morning after breakfast is to trim and clean the light. Our family have been keepers nearly ever since the lighthouse was built. Mr. Robert Parkson, my uncle, who was a God-fearing, God-loving man, was keeper for years; upon his death my husband was appointed; when he died, leaving me with seven small children, it was secured for me, and even though it is a Government position, and subject to change in politics, I have kept my place.”
“Because?” I queried. “Because I have done my duty,” she replied with a smile. “Do you have to attend to the light at night?” I asked. “Yes, it must be trimmed every night at twelve regularly. Now that they have the new light it is easy to work, but when they had nine lamps, it was of course more tiresome.”
We walked down the hill to the riverfront to visit the bell tower. The bell, during the fog, sends its warning note out every fifteen seconds.
“At first,” said Mrs. Rose, “it took me an hour and a half to wind up the machinery that rang the bell; but now it is easier because of late improvements.” When the fog is very thick, either Mrs. Rose or her son remains all night in the bell tower. As we walked back to the keeper’s house, I learned of the faithful wife’s loving care of the dying husband, and her brave effort to make both ends meet while the children were growing up.
As we stood together looking up at the lighthouse, I said to myself: “It is not one of the big lights, but it has never failed the river since it was first lighted.” Then, as I looked at the firm old hands that had trimmed the light for forty-two years, I thought, “A little light, a brave loving woman, honored by her townsmen and women, living her duty - she deserves the Apostle’s commendation: “Thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest.”
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2016 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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