Annual Lighthouse Day and Historic Re-enactments Reinforce Stony Point Triumphs

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STORY AND PHOTOS BY JANIE ROSMAN

Lighthouse entrance and steps
Lighthouse entrance and steps

More than 250 people attended Lighthouse Day this past weekend to learn about the historic building that sits atop Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Park.

Built in 1826, this oldest and first of 14 lighthouses on the Hudson River marked the entrance to the Hudson Highlands for nearly 100 years. It was decommissioned in 1925 and serves as a historical reminder of how important lighthouses have been to the river’s commerce.

Historical interpreter Barbara Devine portrayed Nancy Rose at Lighthouse Day, who tended the lighthouse for 47 years with her daughter Melinda until the latter Rose died in 1904 at age 80.

Preparing to shoot the cannon
Preparing to shoot the cannon

“Because it’s fragile we open it once a year,” Devine said as she checked in visitors arriving for the tour. By day’s end Warger had led 14 groups of six people up and down the 189-year-old structure’s narrow, winding staircase.

Throughout the day balladeer Linda Russell performed 19th century maritime music, and storyteller Jonathan Kruk shared period stories. Acquired by the parks commission in 1941, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 29, 1979 and gets a makeover starting this week. “We’ll paint the outside this year, and then pain the inside next spring,” Warger said.

Visitors learned about the British 17th Regiment camp and the battle that ensued at midnight between July 15 and 16, 1779, a battle that ended by 1 a.m. and who victory was the last major battle in the north, boosting American morale. “The continental Army, the militia, that didn’t have camps, were sending women and children here to Stony Point with the British soldiers who stayed with them,” historical interpreters Carol Golden and David Stedge explained.

Campsite and galley (right)
Campsite and galley (right)

On a table were a chessboard and a game of checkers, “called draughts back then,” Golden said. “In the museum is another game, the original Connect Four, where you line up four pegs in a row down, across or diagonally),” Stedge said.

Revolutionary War interpreter Ben Olex — who switched costumers for the day to re-enact a 19th century Civil War veteran — was one of several interpreters who drove guests around the hilly, 33-acre site. As we passed several tall rocks marked with circles around their circumference, Olex noted, “That’s where they used to put reigns for the horses.”

A special treat was the cannon firing later in the afternoon. Historic interpreter Michael Sheehan gave a brief description of the cannon before it was cleaned, loaded and fired (with powder). “Here we have a six-pounder,” Sheehan said, referring to the size of the cannonball, “which would fly out of the cannon a distance of 1.06 miles” and land in the Hudson River.

Historical interpreters David Stedge and Carol Golden
Historical interpreters David Stedge and Carol Golden

“In the middle of the summer boaters know when we fire, and they wait for it before passing by,” he said. We don’t actually fire a ball; we fire powder, so we’re not going to sink anything.”

In action, the officer of the gun says, “Load, make ready, fire.” Sheehan said. “Hessian on the gun!” He joked about Olex as the Civil War veteran, “He’s usually wearing Revolutionary War clothes.”

Sheehan put his hand over the vent hole to cut off air since the tiny small hole was the only other entrance into the gun besides the muzzle. This blocks oxygen or air from flowing freely through the cannon and rekindling sparks or embers that may be inside.

“Search!” A bore brush was loaded into the front of the cannon to clean out any debris. “Sponge!” Next, a lamb’s wool sponge cleans the inside, making a bong-type noise. “Hear that bong?” Sheehan asked. “The wet sponge in conjunction with my thumb on the vent makes sure there is no vacuum.” The process is repeated twice.

Barbara Devine (as lighthouse keeper Nancy Rose) speaks with a visitor
Barbara Devine (as lighthouse keeper Nancy Rose) speaks with a visitor

“In the 18th century rounds would have been wrapped in flannel, and it’s thrown into the cannon so it sits at the bottom under the vent,” he said. “You’ll notice he moved his body out of the way. With fresh powder being introduced, if the gun is going to go off, it’s at that moment.”

He placed a fuse — made from lead, paper, etc., depending upon the country and what service the person was in — inside the charge and said, “Prime!” meaning the gun is primed and ready to go. A final step was lynch stock, a rope soaked in potassium nitrate and wine solution that burns hot and slow sets the cannon off, Sheehan said. “Make ready, cover your ears, not your eyes,” he said. “Fire!”

Lighthouse seen from British fort - photo credit Ser Amantio di Nicolao
Lighthouse seen from British fort – photo credit Ser Amantio di Nicolao

The air exploded with a burst of yellow and orange flames. “So you see there are a lot of steps to fire a single round,” Sheehan said. Just then a boat passed by the would-be target area. The site is open through the end of October, when it closes until mid-April 2016. For hours and information call 845-786-2521.

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