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.”
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.
How did the Charlotte – Genesee Lighthouse become a part of the Town’s History and part of the Town’s Seal? The following topics give you more background on the Lighthouse. Not all this information is in the video but here is some additional reading that you can read about the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse
The Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Ontario, is also marking its bicentennial this year as well as the Town of Greece. We trace its history from its construction in 1822 on land deeded from the Hincher family to the abandonment of the tower and the removal of the light to the west pier, to its restoration as an active lighthouse again in 2014.
The Connection to the Hinchers
In November 1794, Hincher purchased 627 acres of land in what is now Charlotte, using Continental currency. When the scrip was deemed to be of no value, he was forced to pay for the land a second time. It turned out to be an important purchase. William Hincher died in 1817 at the age of 75. The Charlotte Lighthouse was constructed on part of their property, deeded to the government in 1821 by his widow, Mehitable. She died in 1839 at the age of 94. For more on the Hinchers, Check out the post on the Hinchers. Bicentennial Snapshot # 3: The Hinchers
The Creation of the first 6 ports in New York noticed that Buffalo and Genesee are not among these first six ports
Districts and Ports In New York. Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That in the state of New York, there shall be six districts, to wit: Sagg Harbor on Nassau or Long Island, the city of New York, the city of Hudson, Champlain, Oswego, and Niagara.
The district of Sagg Harbor shall include all the bays, harbors, rivers, and shores, within the two points of land which are called Oyster Pond point, and Mantauck point; and a collector for the district shall be appointed, to reside at Sagg Harbor, which shall be the only port of entry and delivery in the said district.
The district of the city of New York shall include all such part of the coasts, rivers, bays, and harbors of the said state as are not included in, other districts of the said state, especial]y the several towns or landing places of New Windsor, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Esopus, Kinderhook, and Albany, as ports of delivery only; and a co]lector, naval officer, and surveyor for the district shall be appointed, to reside at New York, which shall be the sole port of entry for the district; and a surveyor, at the city of Albany; and the President of the United States is authorized, if he judge it expedient, to appoint one other surveyor, to reside at such other place in the said district as he shall appoint.
The district of Hudson shall include all the waters and shores of the aid city; and a collector shall be appointed for the said district, the side at the said city of Hudson, which sha]l be the sole port of entry and delivery.
The district of Champlain shall include all such shores and waters of Lake Champlain, and the rivers connected therewith, as lie within the aid state of New York; and the said district shall extend westwardly along the northern boundary line of the said state, unto the place where aid line is bounded by the river St. Lawrence; and the President of the United States is hereby authorized to appoint such place within the said district to be a port of entry and delivery, as he shall judge expedient; and a collector shall be appointed, to reside at the port of entry which may be established within the said district; and the President is also, authorized, if he shall judge proper, to appoint, not exceeding two surveyors, to reside at such places as he may judge expedient to constitute ports of delivery only.
The district of Oswego shall include all the shores and waters of the river St. Lawrence, from the place where said river is intersected by the forty-fifth degree of northern latitude, and all the shores and waters of Lake Ontario, and the rivers and waters connected therewith, Iying within the jurisdiction of the United States, and within the state of New York, to the eastward of the west bank of Genesee river; and a collector shall be appointed, who shall reside at or near Oswego, at such place as the President of the United States shall appoint to be the port of entry or the district; and the President of the United States is authorized to appoint not exceeding three surveyors, to reside at such places within the said district, as he shall judge proper, and to constitute each or either of such places to be ports of delivery only.
The district of Niagara shall include all the shores and waters of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and the rivers connected therewith, lying within the jurisdiction of the United States, and within the state of New York, to the westward of the west bank of Genesee river; and a collector shall be appointed who shall reside at Niagara, which shall be the sole port of entry for the district; and the President of the United States is authorized to appoint, not exceeding two surveyors, to reside at such paces within the said district, as he shall judge proper, and to constitute each or either of such places to be the ports of delivery only.
Second Session of the Eighth Congress That three new Port Districts were created 2 in New York and Port of Miami
It was not until the Eighth Congress, the second session (November 5, 1804 – March 3, 1805) when the port for Genessee River and Buffaloe, noticed how Genessee and Buffalo were written during the 8th session of Congrees on March 3 of 1805, here is the entry for the text in the table of contents Districts of Gennessee, Buffaloe Creek, Miami, Erie Act to establish the districts of Gennessee, of Buffaloe Creek, and of Miami this Miami is not the port in Flordia but one on Lake Erie; and to alter port of entry to the district of Erie March 3, 1805. The text Eighth session of Chapter 34 reads:
Section 1: Be it enacted by the Senate and House Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the thirty-first day of March next, all the shores and waters of the Lake Ontario, and the rivers and waters connected therewith, lying within the jurisdiction of the United States, and within the state of New York, to the westward of the western extremity of Sodus bay, but excluding all the rivers and waters emptying into the said bay, and to the eastward of the eastern extremity of a certain creek or bay, lying between Niagara and the Gennessee river, and known by the name of Oak Orchard creek, shall be a district, to be called the district of Gennessee, of which the river Gennessee shall be the sole port of entry; and a collector for said district shall be appointed, to reside on the river Gennessee.
Section 2. And be it further enacted, That all the shores, rivers and waters heretofore belonging to the district of Niagara, which empty into Lake Erie. or into the river Niagara, above the falls of Niagara, shall, from and after the thirty-first day of March next, to be called the district of Buffaloe Creek, of which Buffaloe Creek shall be the sole port of entry; and a collector for the said district shall be appointed, to reside on Buffaloe Creek.
In 1821 it is written in the Statutes at Large that there was a deading of land to the United States for a lighthouse to be built at the mouth of the Genesee River. Mehitable Hincher deeded the U. S government the property on which to build a lighthouse. The arrow points to the Hincher property. The entrance to the Genesee River was difficult to navigate as it was clogged with reeds and obstructed by sandbars. Lake Ontario extended farther south than it is today and as you can see from this map, the shore waters were marshy. The site on a bluff overlooking the river was chosen because of its height.
Improvements to the Pier
For the pier improvements we mention in the snapshot we found the entry in Statutes at Large. They approved and documented here A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 and it is in the Statutes at Large, 20th Congress, 2nd Session, March 2, 1829, and here you will find the that it cost ten thousand dollars in today cost would be $312,504.35 for navigational improvements on the Genesee to help ships enter the ports and leave the port there to head off to other ports along Lake Ontario. see the link here for the text from the session https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=004/llsl004.db&recNum=394.
The work Completed was documented in Statutes at Large, 23rd Congress, 1st Session on June 28, 1834, and for the completion, it cost additional twenty thousand dollars that were paid out, and today that cost would be $668,613.95 based on inflation for the work that would have been done between 1829 and 1834 at the Port of Genesee. here is the link to the information on the cost of completion of the upgrades https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=004/llsl004.db&recNum=750.
In 1881, the light was turned off in the tower and in 1884 was moved to the lighthouse on the edge of the west pier.
On January 1, 1916, the City of Rochester, mostly to gain control of the port, annexed the village of Charlotte from the Town of Greece.
Seal of Town of Greece
The Seal of the Town of Greece features the lighthouse from Charlotte as part of the Town’s Past
It was not till 1954 that the official flag was adopted by the Town of Greece.
How the Lighthouse was lit?
Q: Did you know that the Charlotte-Genesee lighthouse was lit by whale oil? A: It originally had 10 whale oil Argand lamps, which were replaced with a Fresnel lens in 1853.
In 1782, François-Pierre Ami Argand (1750-1803), a Swiss-born physicist living in France, invented the double draft burner, which became known as the Argand oil lamp. Argand’s design used two thin metal tubes with one set inside the other. The wick was placed between these tubes and was thus formed into a long hollow cylinder. Air was allowed to enter the center of the wick through holes placed in the oil drip-cup attached to the bottom of the wick tubes. Air was also allowed to enter around the outside of the outer wick tube, through holes in the bottom of the chimney holder. Argand’s design provided much more oxygen to the flame, more efficient fuel combustion, and a much brighter light. Argand also invented the use of a chimney, which helped to provide additional airflow over the wick and protected the flame from outside air currents, which could make it flicker.
In 1787, another Frenchman, Monsieur Lange, invented the constricted chimney, which Argand quickly added to his design. The constricted chimney forced the outside air closer to the flame. This action further improved the combustion of the fuel, giving a still brighter flame, which was measured at about 7 candlepower.
(Drawing by Author from a Lighthouse Board Drawing) A typical Argand Lamp Burner. (1782)
Installation of the New Lighthouse
After being neglected for almost a hundred years the Charlotte Genesee Lighthouse Society rescued the old tower and restored it to the point where the tower was reactivated as a working lighthouse in November 2014 and now appears on all Coast Guard charts and maps. The light can now be seen over 12 miles into the lake. A Fresnel lens, or a replica of vintage lighthouse lenses that shine strong beams of light over far distances, was sponsored by an anonymous donor to the tune of $34,000 and assembled by professionals in Florida. The entire project, including the lens, cost around $189,000, Salter said. From the Democrat & Chronicle News article September 25, 2014. https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2014/09/25/charlotte-genesee-lighthouse-lantern/16205255/
The Greece Historical Society presents these weekly Bicentennial Snapshots to mark the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the Town of Greece. Each week we feature a particular aspect of Greece, New York history. Each Bicentennial story will be unique in nature and over the course of the 52 episodes, you will learn about the people and events that comprise the vibrant history of Greece from its earliest days to the present.
Each story is researched, written, and narrated by retired librarian and local historian Maureen Whalen; she has a unique style of storytelling that makes each Bicentennial Snapshot come alive and easy for everyone to understand.
The mission of the Greece Historical Society is to discover, research, and preserve the history of the Town of Greece and to share that history with its residents and the local community through public programs, publications, museum exhibits, and accessibility to its archives and artifacts.
If you are interested in learning more about the History of the Town of Greece history then pick up a copy of Eight Miles Along the Shore, or any of the other publications in our online gift shop. There may be a few other books about the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse available at the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse in their gift shop also consider donating to help them celebrate their bicentennial as well.
If you like to learn more about the Town of Greece’s history, consider Subscribing to Our YouTube Channel Greece History and when you are there don’t forget to click that bell icon 🔔, you will be notified when new content comes out for the Bicentennial Snapshots or other programs that the Society puts on about the Town of Greece and its past so future generations can understand how the town has taken us on multiple journeys.
The Bicentennial Snapshots video is assembled and produced by Pat Worboys, who manages video and Information Technology services for the Greece Historical Society and Museum.
All graphics that are used in the video are either from Public Domain Sources, Museum Collections, and contributions by members of the Greece Historical Society, and credit is given to each source either in the lower third or at the end of the video.