A moment long-awaited by enthusiasts of Rock Island Lighthouse came the morning of Tuesday, June 4th, when a Grand Reopening ceremony took place there, marking the official opening of the fully-renovated lighthouse station.
Renovation work began in 2010 using a combined $1.5 million in federal and state grants, and consisted of a complete refinishing and strengthening of the lighthouse and all buildings on the island, lead remediation, installation of sewer and electrical service from the mainland, and rehabilitation of the grounds throughout the four-acre island including replacement of century-old concrete walkways.
The invitation-only event was organized by officials from New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, which owns the site. Opening remarks were made by Kevin Kieff, Regional Director Thousand Islands State Parks, who championed the project from its inception, followed by speeches from Rose Harvey, Commissioner of New York State Parks, Harold B. Johnson II, New York State Parks Commission Chairman, and Gary DeYoung, Director of Tourism for the 1000 Island International Tourism Council, all of whom praised the fine work done to restore the station and looked forward to the anticipated economic and cultural benefits to the local community. Mark Wentling, Founder & Director of the Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association, spoke about the station's place as a work site for former Keepers like Willard Cook and Michael Diepolder, and as a home for the families who lived at the lighthouse with them. A class of 3rd grade students from LaFargeville Central School also sang "America the Beautiful" for the more than 50 guests and officials in attendance.
Manny & Vicki Jerome, who in 1983 led a community effort to repaint and relight the tower, and who for 30 years since have volunteered their time each season to beautify the lawns, maintain the buildings and raise the American flag in front of the Keeper's house, spoke passionately about the dedication of hundreds of local volunteers who helped care for the station with them over the years. The Jeromes were then recognized for their service by Kevin Kieff who presented them with a framed 1st edition William Christopherson art print of the lighthouse. Kieff also named the Jeromes co-presidents of a new "Friends of Rock Island Lighthouse" group.
The Jeromes and all of the speakers then participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the foot of the lighthouse pier to officially mark the reopening.
Guests were able to climb the lighthouse stairs all the way up to the lantern room to take in a bird's eye view of the station and the surrounding islands, and even the part of the Thousand Islands International Bridge that stretches from Collins Landing to Wellesley Island.
The Keeper's house was given a fresh coat of red paint with bright white trim for the event, and is accessible by wheelchair ramp. Inside, every room has been completely stripped and repainted while leaving intact period architectural details such as wooden fireplace mantles, sculpted moldings and railings, cast-iron vents, window locks and door fixtures. Even damaged 36-pane windows have been replicated in exacting detail to match those that had survived the years unharmed. Each room on the first floor contains textual and photographic exhibits based on the themes of: growth of the Thousand Islands region, history of Rock Island Lighthouse, the lives of the Keepers who tended the station, nearby shipwrecks, and development of the St. Lawrence River as a shipping thoroughfare. The breezeway and attached kitchen have been converted into an understated, yet well-stocked gift shop offering local history books, plus art prints, mugs and plates depicting Rock Island Lighthouse. Upstairs, two bedrooms have been repainted and lushly decorated with furniture, mirrors, lamps and flowers to serve as dressing rooms for the weddings Parks officials anticipate will become a popular use of the island. A third bedroom serves as an office for staff.
According to the new Site Manager, Deb Spry, Rock Island Lighthouse State Park will be open to visitors between the hours of 10am and 5pm Thursday through Sunday from June 6th until June 21st, increasing to seven days per week through Labor Day, and then weekends only through Columbus Day. Admission to the buildings on Rock Island will cost $3 per person. Special arrangements have been made with Clayton Island Tours to provide shuttle service as well as specialty tours to and from the island at a small cost, and private boats are also welcome at the floating dock. Full restrooms for guests are located in the restored Workshop and picnic tables are available for public use.
Visit New York State's Rock Island Lighthouse State Park website for official contact information and the latest details on visiting: http://nysparks.com/parks/188/details.aspx
Numerous media organizations were on-hand to record the Grand Reopening; here are links to some of their reports:
- "Rock Island Lighthouse Now Open to the Public" (WWNY-TV Channel 7, Watertown)
- "Rock Island Lighthouse State Park To Open Thursday" (YNN Channel 10, Syracuse - viewing video requires subscription to Time Warner Cable, or can be purchased)
- "Newly Renovated Rock Island Lighthouse Reopens to Visitors" (Watertown Daily Times newspaper online)