An Eventful Night - Thrilling Story of the Burning of Green Island Light House in '64
1898 text from reference (14) in the Bibliography. followed by an account of the fire from a local newpaper
Click the following for a picture of the Second Green Island lighthouse.
"That cold New Year's night," is the
way the old folks put it when they refer to the time wherein occurred the events
here narrated. The night was that of the outgoing of
'63 and the incoming of '64,
and is remembered as the coldest ever known in this country. Among the islands,
exposed as they are to the fierce blasts which sweep Lake Erie, this particular
cold snap was especially noted.
31, 1863, was mild as an April day. Heavy rains had fallen, filling ditches and
lowlands with water, while the lake was entirely free from ice. With the
cessation of the rain, however, a gale sprang up from the Northwest which
steadily increased in violence. As darkness fell and night advanced, the sea
rose in its strength and swept the shores with a deafening roar. The gale became
terrific in force and its breath cut like daggers, so that pedestrians along the
island roads could scarcely face it. Within a few hours the mercury dropped from
60 degrees above to 25 degrees below zero.
Doller's Hall on Put-in-Bay, a party of young people had assembled to dance
"the old year out, and the new in," but owing to the extreme cold they
had deserted the dancing floor and had formed a gathering around the stove.
Suddenly the group was startled by a glimmer which shot up over the tree-tops,
faintly illuminating the windows of the hall.
the moon rising," suggested one. But no, there was no moon, and in a moment
a bright flame arose, mounting higher and higher, while the sky was a lurid
glare of light. A few moments later came the news:
Island light-house is on fire!"
intelligence struck a chill to the hearts of all who realized its import to the
isolated keeper and his family on that bitter night; for in the wild storm
raging without, the boiling sea and the midnight darkness, no human aid could
at Put-in-Bay the alarm was spreading, Colonel Drake, the light-keeper at Green
Island, and his family were gathered in the sitting-room of the cottage which
flanked the tower, and formed a part of the structure. The hour was late. They
were watching the old year out. No apprehension of danger came to them until
above the roar of the wind they heard the crackling of flames. A moment later
the whole upper portion of the building was discovered to be all ablaze.
characteristic coolness Colonel Drake attired himself in boots, hat, and
overcoat before making any attempt to fight the fire, but seized with
consternation his wife and daughter rushed at once from the house - the latter
bareheaded, barearmed, and with feet protected only by thin stockings and
means of a ladder Colonel Drake mounted to the roof with a pail of water. Miss
Drake caught up a pail in each hand, and filling them from the lake, passed them
to her mother by whom they were carried up the ladder to the burning roof where
the keeper was making a brave effort to stay the flames.
thirty pails of water were in this manner transferred to the roof, but though
they worked with the energy of despair the fire steadily gained and colonel
Drake was forced to beat a retreat down the ladder.
family now turned their attention to the saving of their valuables, some of
which were secured, but already the interior of the house was burning and smoke
met them at the door in stifling volumes. A sudden thought of his family's
precarious condition almost turned the brain of Colonel Drake. Unless he could
succeed in saving a bed or two with which to protect them from the intense cold,
they must inevitably perish, since no assistance could reach them from adjacent
islands until the sea went down. He darted into the burning structure. Tongues
of flame licked his face, singed hair and beard, and the smoke blinded and
choked him. With a desperate bound he gained the door of an adjacent room. The
flames had already communicated to this apartment, but the bed was still
untouched. Upon it was a tick filled with feathers and another with straw.
Hastily rolling them into a comforter, he shouldered the bundle and succeeded
narrowly in making an exit from his perilous situation.
scene now presented was one of the wildest grandeur. Blown by the howling blast,
the fire surged, and roared, and by its vivid light could be seen line after
line of white breasted waves rushing tumultuously shoreward, and breaking with a
thundering sound at the base of the tower. Clouds of blinding surf mounted
thirty feet into the air and showered upon the steps, freezing as it fell, and
forming a glaring pavement of ice upon the very threshold of the burning
structure. Wind and sea, fire and darkness had united, and seemed to vie each
with each other in painting a picture of savage sublimity.
the houseless family the situation was one of horror. Under strong, nervous
pressure Miss Drake had exhibited unwonted endurance, but when nothing more
could be done, strength deserted her and she sank into an almost insensible
condition. An examination revealed the fact that her ears, arms and legs were
frozen stiff. The bed was removed to an out-house which remained standing, and
with father and mother the girl was tucked carefully between the ticks, and thus
through the remaining hours of the night they endeavored to keep each other
Drake, son of the light-keeper, was at Put-in- Bay, having formed one of the
party assembled at Doller's Hall. Frenzied with apprehension concerning the fate
of his kindred, the young man could hardly be restrained during the night from
setting out by boat for Green Island - an undertaking which could have resulted
only in his being drowned.
the dawn of New Year's day came a lull in the storm. The unprecedented cold had
thickened the waters of the channel with slush ice and frozen drift, and
although a heavy sea was still rolling a few miles beyond, the channel between
the two islands was becoming rapidly crusted with thin ice.
Drake was now determined to hazard a passage to Green Island, two miles distant,
and in the enterprise was re-inforced by a number of hardy and courageous men.
Two cutters were procured, together with ropes, pike poles and several long
planks. The ice was not sufficiently strong to bear men and cutters, and the way
was bridged with planks which were projected forward and each as it was passed
over was taken up to be again placed in position. Several times the shifting and
sinking of these planks threatened disaster, but the party reached their
destination without serious mishap.
a feeling of dread Pitt Drake now approached the smoldering ruins of the light
house. No signs of life were visible; the little island seemed empty and
the family perished in the flames, or had they suffered the slower agony of
death by freezing?
with a beating heart he sought for a solution of this problem, a shout was heard
from the outbuilding - the only one which the island now contained. The
unfortunates had been discovered, and in a moment young Drake had clasped the
hands of his kindred and was shedding tears of gladness and relief unspeakable.
The family was removed to Put-in-Bay - by means of the cutters employed - where
they were taken in and cared for at the nearest habitation. They were all more
or less prostrated and medical aid was summoned for Miss Drake whose sufferings
from the exposure of the previous night were terrible. Col. Drake also suffered
both from the cold and from burns received.
Drake family subsequently removed to the mainland. Thirty-five years have passed
since the occurrence here recorded. Green Island lighthouse was substantially
rebuilt at a later date by the U. S. government, but the old residents of
neighboring islands have never forgotten the night when the original structure
went up in flame and smoke.
Account of the fire from the Sandusky Daily Commercial Register, January 5, 1864
GREEN ISLAND LIGHT-HOUSE BURNED - The Light-House on Green Island was burned between 7 and 8 o'clock on Friday evening last.
The light was a recent one, being built in 1854 from an original appropriation of $5,000 made in 1851. It has been repaired and improved from time to time - some additions having been made last fall. The light was a "flash light" with a costly French mirror, and was very important to lake navigation. The structure was somewhat like the one on Cedar Point, being a light tower and dwelling conjoined. The light was kept by Col. Chas. F. Drake, formerly of this city, who is a severe sufferer - he having saved only two beds, a marine clock and some small articles.
The loss to the government will be from $6,000 to $8,000.
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