2021 is the 100th anniversary of the Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse installation, but a pair of lanterns on a tall pole (often called post lights) were the first aid to navigation at Jeffrey's Hook, which is a rocky outcropping at the base of Washington Heights and dangerously close to the shipping channel. Installed in 1889, the lanterns shone red to warn mariners away from the hook.
Very few records of the keepers of the post light, and even the lighthouse itself, remain. However, when doing research for the upcoming lighthouse film, we ran across this intriguing pair of newspaper articles from 1891 featuring keeper Patrick Roach and his family. The articles below were published in the New York Herald on November 26 and 27, 1891 and are reproduced here in their entirety, transcribed by Sarah Wassberg Johnson.
“A Woman’s Leap From Fire: Husband and Daughter Dragged From Windows of the Burning Shanty”
New York Herald, November 26, 1891
The family of Patrick Roach had a narrow escape last night from burning to death. Their home in 175th street, near Kingsbridge avenue, was set on fire, it is supposed, by young ruffians of the neighborhood who bore them a grudge.
The house, a two story frame shanty, stood on a rock twenty feet high, just back from the street. Roach is keeper in Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse and he lived in the shanty with his wife, Bridget, and Mary, his nineteen-year-old daughter.
The family spent last evening preparing for their Thanksgiving dinner. Roach left the kitchen early, and went to a room adjoining to lie down. A little later Mrs. Roach went upstairs to go to bed, and Mary was left alone.
FLAMES ALL AROUND THE GIRL
She sat in the corner of the kitchen reading by the light of a lamp on the table. Presently she heard a low rumbling sound in the opposite corner of the room and saw a flame shoot up from the floor. Other flames shot up all around her, and the terrified girl ran to the door leading up stairs and shouted to her mother that the house was afire.
Then Mary, in an effort to get out, began to dodge the flames that were fast filling the room, Suddenly the window was thrown open and a man put in his arm and lifted Mary out.
By this time Roach had awakened and skipped into the glazing kitchen. The smoke and flames were nearly suffocating him when a man came to his rescue and dragged him out of the window.
Mrs. Roach tried to go down stairs, but the smoke drove her back. She went to the window. “Jump!” shouted the crowd that had gathered in the street.
DO NOT KNOW THEIR RESCUER
Out the window sprang Mrs. Roach and landed on the street thirty-five feet below, bruised and shocked, but with no bones broken.
The fire burned up everything in the house and left very little of the house standing. Mary’s hands were badly burned and her father was burned on the hands, arms and legs. They refused to go to a hospital and sought shelter at a neighbor’s house.
Neither knew the man who had rescued them, and he did not make his presence known after he got them safely out of the house. There may have been two rescuers for all Roach and his daughter knew.
The Roaches told me that they had strong suspicions that the fire was started by a gang of young teamsters, known as the McDowell gang, who hang about the neighborhood, do mischief at night and play ball on Sunday. Sometimes their ball would be thrown into Roache’s [sic] house, and one day Mary kept it. The next day Mary was hit with a baseball thrown at her and she complained to the Washington Heights police, who stopped the ball playing.
Since then the rowdies have talked of being recognized and the other night Mrs. Roach’s sister, while passing the gang, heard them say that they were going to “get even” with “Paddy” Roach.
No arrests were made last night.
“This Fire Still a Mystery”
New York Herald, November 27, 1891
The Roach family, whose two story shanty on the rocks in 175th street, near Kingsbridge road, was burned Thanksgiving eve, insist that the house was set on fire. The police of the Washington Heights police station pooh-pooh the idea and are making no investigation.
Roach and his daughter believe that members of the McDonald gang set the shanty afire. The family have had trouble with the gang and Miss Roach says the young fellows have threatened several times to force them to leave the neighborhood.
How the person or persons who dragged the members of the family out of the burning building happened to be on hand so soon after the fire broke out is a mystery if the rescuers were not the incendiaries. The Roaches were too much excited to recognize the rescuers.
Roach is keeper of the Jeffrey’s Hook lighthouse at Fort Washington. Some government papers were destroyed in the fire. Roach and his daughter were painfully but not seriously burned. They are being cared for by relatives.
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