Bicentennial Snapshot # 09 – Giles H Holden

This week we introduce you to Giles H. Holden, the first keeper of the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse. Holden, a veteran of the War of 1812, came to Greece in 1817 to be the Deputy Collector and Surveyor of the port. In 1822, he became the first lighthouse keeper, a position he held until 1834. He was also a Greece Justice of the Peace, a Supervisor of the Town of Greece, and head of the Charlotte Board of Health during a cholera epidemic and he was also a Commissioner of Common Schools for the town of Greece from 1825-1830 while he was the lightkeeper.

Although born in Charleston, New Hampshire circa 1788, Giles Holden grew up in Middlebury, Vermont.  He was attending the University of Burlington in Vermont when the War of 1812 began.  Holden enlisted; in fact, so many of his fellow students enlisted that the school had to close until the end of the war. After the war, he moved to Perinton to teach school. 

On March 9, 1817, he married Susan Bennett, who had been one of his students. The next month they moved to Charlotte after Giles was appointed Deputy Collector and Surveyor of the port.  They traveled by horseback, Susan riding behind her new husband. This description of Susan’s reaction to her new home gives you an idea of what the area was like in that era.

“I stood the journey very well, until we reached the brow of Hopper Hill (Hopper Terr, today).  Pointing ahead, Giles said ‘Yonder lies Charlotte.’ I looked and seeing nothing but woods, dense woods, a feeling of lonesomeness came over me, and I burst into tears.”

Susan Bennett

They took up residence in a home Giles had built.  In 1819, Giles purchased 100 acres of land adjoining the village on the west and farmed it. 

Holden became the first lighthouse keeper after the lighthouse was constructed in 1822. He held that position until 1834.

The keeper was provided with a two-room dwelling.  But that wasn’t enough for the Holdens with their ten children; Giles enlarged it with two additions. While Giles was the keeper and the deputy collector of the port, the body of Sam Patch, America’s first daredevil was discovered near the mouth of the Genesee River (where the Monroe County boat launch is today).  It was five months after his unsuccessful leap of high falls on Friday, November 13, 1829. Holden sent this message to the Rochester Daily Advertiser newspaper:

In addition to his keeper duties, in 1827, Giles was elected Justice of the Peace in Greece.  In 1832 he was elected supervisor of Greece. In 1832, a cholera epidemic broke out in Rochester and the surrounding towns. In just six short weeks, the epidemic took almost 2,500 lives, or 1% of the population of the area.  During the months of July and August, business and travel were almost entirely suspended. The seemingly vigorous in the morning were carried to their graves before night. Giles Holden was head of the Board of Health for Charlotte and he closed the port and posted guards on Ridge Road to keep infected parties out of Greece.

Because it was a political appointment, Holden lost the lightkeeper position when Andrew Jackson took office in 1835. Those two additions he put on the house? He took them with him, moving them across the street from the lighthouse. Local historian Jack Kemp wrote about Holden “In later life, Giles was addressed as Squire Holden, attesting to the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries.”  Holden died in 1867 and he is buried in the Charlotte Cemetery.


Co-Director of the Greece Historical Society's Information Technology Committee and Producer of the Bicentennial Snapshots