Courtyard gardens have been pruned; sturdy docks are being built or installed; entryway window boxes have been planted; the Museum’s Gift Shop is being stocked with historical books, children’s favorites, a variety of postcards and keepsakes of the Hudson, t-shirts and hats with HRMM logos, and even repurposed sailcloth transformed into chic totes are ready to become a favorite carry-all.
Saturday, May 2, at 11:00 am, marks the official opening to the 2015 season, and judging from the enthusiastic response thus far (from periodic drop-ins, the board, volunteers and staff) 2015 is sure to be one to remember for many reasons. Not only is it the Museum’s 35th anniversary (1980-2015), this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Rondout Light (1915-2015), owned by the City of Kingston and maintained, in partnership, with the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
Lighthouses of the Hudson, sponsored solely by Rondout Savings Bank, is the featured exhibit, and depicts thirteen lighthouses that once populated the river; there are only seven of these structures standing today. Rondout Savings Bank President and CEO Jim Davenport states that its 2015 sponsorship of the “Lighthouses of the Hudson” exhibit “takes the bank’s long-term relationship with the Hudson River Maritime Museum to an even higher level” adding, “what a perfect match – a special exhibit sponsorship that joins three entities with a rich and common history …” Cheryl Bowers, Vice President and COO notes that Rondout’s “Dividend to the Community Program”… assigns special value to programs that educate, enlighten and build pride in the communities it serves. Our lighthouse logo has served the Bank well as it represents each of the core traits and values we embrace and live by.”
Since the Hudson River was the main highway between New York and Albany, for many years, everything was transported by way of the river. It became necessary for dangerous places to be designated with warning lights or lanterns on poles. These lights eventually translated into actual structures or lighthouses, some with residential keepers and their families.
These lighthouse keepers had a noble mission – “to never let the light go out”. The keeper also had to record the supplies used, the sun’s rise and setting, weather conditions, any visitors, rescues or unusual events. The government issued very specific orders for the lighthouse keeper’s routine, actions to take under certain circumstances, and specific rations. As a result, we are provided with a first-hand glimpse into 19th and 20th century history, and to a long-gone but not forgotten way of life on the Hudson.
Depicted in this exhibit are the Stuyvesant Lighthouse; Coxsackie Lighthouse; Four-Mile Point Lighthouse; Hudson-Athens Lighthouse; Saugerties Lighthouse; Rondout Lighthouse; Esopus Meadows Lighthouse; West Point Lighthouse; Stony Point Lighthouse; Rockland Lake Lighthouse; Tarrytown (Sleepy Hollow) Lighthouse; and the Little Red Lighthouse, made famous by Hildegarde Swift’s 1942 book, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge”. A reproduction of Woodstock artist Charles Rosen’s 1937 mural map of the Hudson River, which is displayed in the Beacon, NY post office, serves as a picturesque backdrop and site map to the lighthouse display.
A photo-collage shows the “before restoration” and “present day” images of Saugerties, Hudson-Athens, Rondout and Esopus Meadows Lighthouses. Four-Mile Point Preserve, Stuyvesant and Coxsackie were replaced with a light on an iron skeleton frame. Archival photographs of the keepers and their families, sometimes accompanied by the pet rooster or dog, also bring a certain humanity to these lone architectural structures on the water.
One of the more fascinating archival items in the exhibit is the well-known Rondout Light-keeper Mrs. Catherine Murdock’s scrapbook (represented by a replica since the upright installation of the actual book would be too risky for the aging artifact). Seeing her newspaper clippings arranged spatially like a jigsaw puzzle rather than in “date order” is fascinating.
A handcrafted model of the second Rondout Lighthouse, literally created from a visual blueprint by volunteer and master carpenter Ron Searl, is one of the highpoints of the exhibition. Searl, who was a master carpenter at the American Museum of Natural History for twenty-five years before retiring, used an archival photo in the Museum’s collection is to re-create a structure much like that of the second Rondout Light during Mrs. Murdock’s heyday as female light-keeper. All that remains today at the Rondout Creek’s mouth is the circular footprint of this second lighthouse’s bluestone foundation.
Even a bit of “hands-on” science and physics is incorporated into the exhibit; Russell Lange, Executive Director, has installed a display about the Fresnel lens, prisms and light magnification.
As a compliment, five of the ten scheduled “Follow the River Lecture and Film Series” presentations will focus on regional lighthouses. Esopus Meadows Lighthouse President Barbara J. Ralston will present the first lecture of the season: “Scrape & Paint: The Story of Saving Esopus Meadows Lighthouse” on Wednesday, May 6, at 7:00 pm. Ralston’s presentation will be held in the Kingston Home Port and Education Center at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, 50 Rondout Landing, Kingston, NY 12401.
For more information, visit www.hrmm.org or call 845.338.0071, ext. 15.