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History: Danskammer Point Light

James H. Wiest
James H. Wiest
The light keeper's house at Danskammer Point
The light keeper's house at Danskammer Point
The lightkeeper's grandson, Maitland Wiest
The lightkeeper's grandson, Maitland Wiest
May 17, 2007

By Warren Mumford

Many have probably heard of the “Devil’s Dance Chamber” or “Danskammer,” the name coined by the early Dutch for the point two miles north of Newburgh on the west side of the Hudson. The Dutch legend is that Indians used the point for devilish ceremonies. Now the point is lighted by the fires of the Dynergy (originally Central Hudson) power plant.

Largely forgotten, however, is that for a period following the campfires of the Indians and prior to the engines of industry, the point was lighted to keep mariners on course as they steamed up and down the river.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with a 90-year-old gentleman, by the name of Maitland Wiest (now deceased), who told me that his grandfather was keeper of the light at Danskammer during the WWI period. At first, he used a rowboat to reach the light but in later years was able to walk from his private home as the area between the light and the shore was filled in.

Over the years I have found some references that document the existence of the light but details were sparse. For example, the location of the light is shown in Beer’s Atlas of 1891 and is mentioned on the first page of Early in the Morning, a book by Marion Edey (1954) describing life during the 1890’s on the Armstrong Estate at Danskammer.

Recently, however, Mary McTamaney, Newburgh City Historian, pointed me to a book with greater detail regarding the light (Northeast Lights, Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey” Robert G. Bachland, 1989). This reference confirms that James H. Wiest was appointed keeper at Danskammer in 1886. He chose to live with his family in a nearby house instead of in the one room accommodation in the base of the light. The structure stood on a brick foundation, 30 feet square at the bottom rising to a height of 44 feet above sea level.

Records show that the tower and Wiest were struck by lightning on the night of July 11, 1914. Wiest, paralyzed on his right side, stayed at his post until daybreak when he crawled to his house and called for a doctor. Apparently, he was able to resume his duties following this terrifying incident because, according to Bachland, Wiest resigned from his post in November 1919, after more than 3 decades of service. According to records, the light house was decomissioned in the 1920s.


There are more books describing the lighthouse written by my relatives. (Marion Edey is my Great Grandmother.) "Those Days" was written by her brother Hamilton Armstrong, "The Day Before Yesterday" written by David Maitland Armstrong (Any relation to Maitland Wiest?) and "Five Generations" by Margaret Armstrong. I believe that Noel Armstrong took care of the light in it's later years. I would love to learn more about the history of the area. Thank you, Lisa Pierce May 24, 2008

posted by Lisa on 05/26/08 at 10:19 PM

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