At the age of forty-four, Adam Cratsenberg enlisted in the 25th regiment of the New York volunteers and went off to fight in the Civil War. Although he was old enough to be the father of most of his comrades, Cratsenberg’s patriotism compelled him to take up arms for his country. After fighting in the battles of Rappahannock Station, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House, Cratsenberg lost his left arm on June 2, 1864 in the Battle of Cold Harbor and was captured. Cratsenberg survived the harsh conditions at Libby Prison in Richmond,Virginia, and after the war, he was appointed keeper of Tibbetts Point Lighthouse, a position he held for nearly twenty years. A staunch Republican, Cratsenberg feared he would lose his position after the election of Grover Cleveland, the first Democratic President following the Civil War, and decided to resign in 1885 before he could be replaced by a Democrat appointee.
In 1877, the Lighthouse Board noted: “The buildings at this station are old, much decayed, and too small to afford proper accommodations for the keepers. This light is at the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River from Lake Ontario. It must always be an important aid to navigation and should be rebuilt. It is recommended that an appropriation of $10,000 be made for rebuilding this station.”
Postcard showing lighthouse and fog signal
A new two-story, frame dwelling was built for the station in 1880, replacing the old one which was described as a “complete wreck,” and in 1882, “the brick-work of the tower was rebuilt above the parapet-wall” and the “tower was provided with a new lantern having a wooden deck covered with copper.” The lighthouse now stood fifty-nine feet tall and tapered from a diameter of twelve feet at its base to eleven feet at the lantern room.In 1890, the Lighthouse Board noted in its annual report that it was important that the station’s location “be made known at all times and in all kinds of weather” and requested $4,300 for the establishment of a steam fog signal. This request was repeated for years until the amount was finally approved on March 2, 1895. Still, the brick fog signal house and duplicate ten-inch whistles were not ready until the opening of navigation in 1897 as the bids for furnishing a duplicate steam fog signal were all rejected for being too expensive or for not conforming to the specifications. Later in 1897, a stone wall, three feet thick, twelve feet high and sixty-five feet long, was built at the foot of the bank near the fog signal to protect the point from further erosion.
The fog signal building is thirty-six feet long, twenty-two feet wide, thirteen feet tall, and is surmounted by a hipped roof.
The fog signal’s characteristic was originally a three-second blast every ninety seconds, but this was changed to a three-second blast followed by alternate silence intervals of seventeen and thirty-seven seconds in 1900. To provide water for the steam-powered signal, a reservoir was excavated in the rocky bank near the signal house and connected to the lake by an inlet channel. The steam whistle was typically in operation around 200 hours each year and consumed roughly nine tons of coal.
Along with their families, the two keepers, now needed to staff the station since the establishment of the fog signal, were living in the small 1880 dwelling, “much to the discomfort of both.” A new dwelling for the assistant keeper was first requested in 1898. At that time, $3,500 was deemed sufficient for its construction, but by the time the funding was finally made available in 1906, the cost had risen to $4,000. The station’s second two-story keeper’s dwelling was built in 1907. A square oil house, with a capacity of 540 gallons, was erected at the station in 1905.
Aerial view of Tibbetts Point Lighthouse in 1974
The Montonna family watched over Tibbetts Point Lighthouse for half a century, starting with the appointment of David Montonna as keeper in 1885. David’s son William became assistant keeper in 1897, the year before the end of his father’s term of service, and would serve as head keeper from 1898 until his retirement in 1937. In 1912, the Oswego Daily Times carried the following paragraph on Keeper Montonna’s service.
The Tibbett’s Point lighthouse above Cape Vincent, marking the entrance to the American channel of the St. Lawrence, flies a white pennant bordered with red and bearing a black lighthouse. This is neither a signal of distress nor a warning to the weary mariner, but it is an honor signaling the Tibbett’s point light and its keeper, W. E. Montonna, from among all of the 75 light houses between Detroit and Ogdensburg as the best kept and neatest light and grounds in the district. It is what is known in the service as an efficiency pennant.
Besides maintaining the station in fine order, Keeper Montonna also kept an eye on vessels passing the station, and in 1922, he was commended for supplying gasoline to the fish tug Cole and the cabin cruiser Miss Esther May so they could reach port.
At the opening of navigation in 1927, an air diaphone fog signal, sounding a three-second blast every thirty seconds, replaced the old steam whistle. On November 6, 1930, the intensity of the light was increased by changing the illuminant to electricity, and at the opening of the following season, the characteristic of the light was changed from fixed to an occulting light that was on for six seconds and then eclipsed for four seconds. As an additional aid to mariners, a Class “D” marker radiobeacon was established at Tibbetts Point in 1949. In 1952, the radiobeacon was changed from Class “D” to Class “C,” which doubled its range from 10 miles to 20 miles.
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Historical Society