According to government records, Mrs. Murdock arrived at the old wooden lighthouse, built in 1837 on the south side of the entrance to the Rondout Creek, in 1856 when her husband was appointed head keeper. She arrived with a host of personal belongings, including furniture, and two small children – George and Emma. A third child, James, was born in the lighthouse.
Although there were many applicants for her late husband’s position, Mrs. Murdock was officially appointed by the United States Lighthouse Service as Head Keeper at Rondout on July 11, 1857 with the help of local friends. Her appointment was also due to her own diligent efforts in maintaining the light.
In 1867 when the substantial bluestone lighthouse was built Mrs. Murdock moved her family into their new home. Characterized by a newspaper of the day a “little waterborne castle… where the children were raised to the music of merry waves and dashing spray…,” the new lighthouse must have been a cozy and delightful home. The house was roomy and pleasant with four rooms on each of its two floors. Photographs taken in the family parlor indicate that it was filled – in typical Victorian fashion – with dark furniture that obviously belonged to the family, and wallpapered walls covered with framed photos and prints.
One morning before the dikes were built on each side of the Creek’s entrance, as Mrs. Murdock sat in her “little sewing room”, she heard a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. She turned around and saw a schooner’s bowspirit sticking through the window and half way into the room. The schooner had been crowded into the lighthouse by a steam tug and a large tow of barges which was leaning the Rondout Creek.
In 1880 her son James Murdock was appointed assistant keeper, and officially began to help his mother in her duties at the lighthouse. James and his wife lived in the lighthouse with his mother. When the new lighthouse was opened in 1915 James was its first keeper.
In 1907 Catherine Murdock, who had by this time remarried someone named Perkins, retired from the lighthouse service and moved ashore. Her fifty-one years of service as a head lighthouse keeper made her the oldest lighthouse keeper in continuous service in the United States at the time of her retirement.
Living full time on the mainland must have been quite an adjustment for this indomitable woman whose whole adult life had been spent on a small island.
Mrs. Murdock Perkins out lived two husbands, both of whom died by drowning. She herself died in 1909 and is buried in the Port Ewen Cemetery with her family, the Parsells.