Rock Island Lighthouse Keepers
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 Michael J. Diepolder, 1886-1901
    Written by Mark A. Wentling

 

        Michael Johann Diepolder was born Johann Michael Steiner on 14 December 1852 at Kurzberg, Martinszell parish, Waltenhofen, Schwaben, Bayern, Germany.  Custodial records in Germany indicate that he was the son of Gilles Boulanger (a.k.a. Aegidius Bollage) a Frenchman from Nessonvaux, near Verviers, Belgium, who was supervising railroad construction through Kurzberg at the time, and Salome Steiner, a poor person, born 9 January 1833 at Kurzberg, one of seven children of Johannes Nepomuk Steiner, born 2 May 1793 at Häusern, died 29 June 1839 at Kurzberg, and Maria Katharina Wiestner, born 24 November 1792 at Kurzberg, died 25 February 1873 at Kurzberg.  No record exists of a marriage between Gilles and Salome, and nothing is known about his ancestry.
        By the summer of 1859, Salome had married
Engelbert Diepolder, a farmer, born about 22 November 1828 in the neighboring village of Memhölz, a son of Johann Georg Diepolder and Biebinia Riederer. Engelbert applied to immigrate at Göratz (Archives application # STAA-BA-Ke 3116), and in 1859 he at age 30, "his bride" Salome at age 25, and Johann at age 6 years, set sail for the United States from Hamburg, Germany, aboard the steamship
Bavaria, under the command of Capt. H. Taube.  Their quarters while on board were "between decks" and they were enumerated as passengers 94 through 96 respectively.  More passengers were picked up at Southampton, England, before setting out for the final stretch of the long voyage to America.  They finally landed in New York City on 1 September 1859, where they disembarked at the Castle Garden immigration facility.  The arrival records at Castle Garden are the last that refer to Salome and Johann as 'Steiner'; future U.S. records refer to them as 'Diepolder'.  Undoubtedly, Engelbert and Salome had decided to normalize the family name as part of a fresh start in their new homeland.
         The Diepolders made their way north and by the summer of 1860 they had settled in LaFargeville, Town of Orleans, Jefferson Co., New Yorka popular settling place in that region for German immigrants at the timewhere they were enumerated in the federal census in dwelling number 552, family number 553, as the "Dupolder" family.  "Englebert" reported his age as 31, birthplace as Germany, and occupation as "cheese maker"; living with him were wife "Saloma," age 26, born in Germany, and son Michael, age 7, born in Germany, who was attending school that year.  The census this year is the first written record that refers to Johann as 'Michael'. 


Signature of Engelbert Diepolder, from his 1859 application to emigrate,
on file today with the Staatsarchiv at Augsburg.


Passenger list from the Bavaria, showing Diepolder family.

        On 10 March 1865 Engelbert died of unknown causes at the young age of 36, a mere five and a half years after arriving in New York City.  He is buried in Grove Cemetery in the village of Lafargeville.  It is said that he was a casualty of the Civil War, though so far no records have been recovered that indicate such service. There are no records to indicate that he ever petitioned for citizenship. 

        After Engelbert's death, Salome moved to Main St. in LaFargeville, next door to the Orleans House Hotel, operated by Samuel Kilborn, who lived a block away with his wife Amanda Cole, and their two children Monroe and Mary.
        In the 1870 federal census of LaFargeville, "Diepolder, S.", a female age 36 years, was enumerated as head of household in dwelling number 245, indicating that Salome remained in the Town of Orleans for at least five years after her husband's death.
       
By 1880, she had married another local Bavarian immigrant, Josef Klepful, a hotel keeper residing in the neighboring Town of Alexandria. The census that year records that one "Sloma Klepful," age 46 (born 1834), of Bavarian parentage, was keeping house as wife of Josef who was 15 years her junior; living with them was a servant, 15 year old Theura Jaerg, also from Bavaria. Their common homeland and Salome's daily exposure to the Kilborn's hotel business probably helped spark their relationship.
       
Evidence suggests the hotel that Josef and Salome operated was the Plessis Hotel, also known as Central House or Central Hotel, located on Main St., near the intersection with Wall St., in the village of Plessis, Town of Alexandria; this is supported by an 1876 newspaper gossip column about Plessis that refers to Josef as a "landlord" in the context of having "guests," the 1880 census data in which they are enumerated two households from the local Methodist Episcopal Church minister's family, and the 1864 map of the village of Plessis which shows Plessis Hotel next door to the Methodist Episcopal Church—Central House is the only church in the Town of Alexandria that fits all these criiteria.

       Michael's first wife was Sophia Hax, a German immigrant.  The registers of the Evangelical Church at Habitzheim, Starkenburg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, show the baptism of one Sophia Hax on 29 August 1847, born to Peter Hax and Sophia Rapp. In 1870, a Sophia Hax, age 22, from Darmstadt, was keeping house in a part of the Town of Orleans in the Theresa post office district of Jefferson County, New York, that was thickly settled with German immigrants. Another Sophia Hax, age 50, of Darmstadt, Germany—presumably her mother—shared a home with another German woman in the vicinity, and probably was a widow. The names, ages, and birthplaces of the women in the German church register match those in the Orleans census records and so probably refer to the same people. In fact, the German baptismal date for young Sophia falls a mere twelve days after the birth of Michael's wife, as calculated from her age at her time of death (i.e. born roughly 17 August 1847). On 2 February 1874, Sophia was baptized at St. Mary's Church in Clayton, Jefferson County, by Father T. Arents (Transcript of Baptisms, pg. 97). Two weeks later, on 16 February 1874, Michael Diepolder and Sophia Hax were married at St. Mary's by Father Arents (Transcript of Marriages, pg. 98). Sophia's baptism into the Catholic Church shortly before their wedding is an indication that Michael probably belonged to the Church at St. Mary's and that Sophia was required to join that faith in order for their wedding to be solemnized. The marriage was short-lived and they had no known children. Sophia died 4 November 1875 at age 28 yrs 2 mos. 17 days, of unknown causes, and was buried next to Michael's father in Grove Cemetery, LaFargeville.

        The following year, Michael petitioned for citizenship in the United States. On 20 October 1876, Michael "...an Alien, formerly a resident of Germany and now a resident of Orleans..." appeared before George Cole, Deputy Clerk for Jefferson County, and declared his intention to become a citizen, thereby renouncing "...all allegiance and fidelity to King of Bavaria...." That same day, Peter Seibert and Philip Fink, citizens of the U.S., swore before the court on Michael's behalf that he had been a continuous resident for five years and was of good character. In the 1900 census of the Town of Orleans, Michael was enumerated as a naturalized citizen, so presumably the court accepted his petition.

        A few years thereafter, Michael married his mother's young neighbor,
Mary Adel Kilborn, born 6 September 1860, daughter of the hotel keeper Samuel Kilborn, whom he no doubt had become well acquainted with after his mother moved to the village.  (Samuel's nephew Herbert Kilborn married his wife Theresa York at St. Mary's Church in Clayton on 1 July 1890, Father E. G. Brice officiating). In 1878, Michael and Mary had their first and only child together, Ada Blanche Diepolder. The next year, they each appeared in Kimball's 1879 Directory of Jefferson County, N.Y.: Michael was listed in Lafargeville under the category "Harness Dealers," while "Diepolder, Mrs. M. J." was listed under "Ornamental Hair Works." In 1880, Michael and Mary were enumerated in their own household, no longer next door to her parents; Michael, 27, was occupied as "harness maker," and Mary, 20, was "keeping house." The 1864 land ownership map of the village of LaFargeville at left shows a harness shop operating next door to the Kilborn hotel (then owned by D. D. Calvin)—it is reasonable to presume that Michael probably sold his harnesses out of this shop, while Mary visited with her family next door.

        In 1881 Michael's father-in-law, Samuel Kilborn, died. In that year, Michael, at age 28, was holding office as Clerk for the Town of Orleans. In that year he signed his name certifying a list of jurors appointed from the town for that year; the list included Joseph Collins, Jr., son of earlier Rock Island Lighthouse keeper Joseph Collins Sr.. Perhaps it was during this early venture into public service that Michael started to develop the system of social contacts and favorable reputation that ultimately earned him his appointment as keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse.

        By 1883, Michael had been voted out of office as Town Clerk.  Articles for the LaFargeville vicinity published in the Watertown Daily Times show that by that fall, Michael, like his mother Salome and his father-in-law Samuel, had gone into business as an innkeeper, though which inn is not specified in the records:

Roullette at Diepolder's -- September 25th

M. J. Diepolder has just received a fine stock of robes and blankets -- October 5th

M. J. Diepolder just received a new billiard table.  The place is well equipped.  There are now four tables in town. -- November 16th.

It's not clear how successful Michael's innkeeping business was, or how long he pursued it, but within two years he was looking for a change in career.

 

1888 Map of the
Village of Lafargeville

By this year Michael had ownership of a home and lot adjacent to the Chaumont River and behind the hotel formerly operated by his father-in-law Samuel Kilborn; census records suggest this may have originally been his mother's property. The home of Michael's mother-in-law, Mrs. Amanda (Cole) Kilborn, by that year a widow, was situated about a block away (demolished by village order five years after her death to make way for a playground for the school next door).


The property of Michael J. Diepolder as it appeared in May 2008.


The Orleans House hotel, once operated by Samuel Kilborn, now a private residence, at it appeared in May 2008.
The garage in the background is situated on property once owned by Michael Diepolder.
 


        In September 1885, Michael sent a petition to the regional lighthouse board engineer asking to be appointed as keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse. Sadly, before he received a decision, Mary died on 22 February 1886 at just 25 years 10 months 29 days, after being sick with consumption (a form of tuberculosis) for three years. Michael was a widower once again, and this time had a child to care for—and they were about to become the only two residents of Rock Island.
        On the merits of his petition, Isaac B. Poucher, Collector of Customs at Oswego, recommended Michael for the position, and on 13 September 1886, Michael assumed the responsibilities of acting keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse.  On 25 September 1886, he permanently replaced the former keeper, Foster M. Drake, and on 20 July 1887, Michael was promoted to Principal Keeper.


Rock Island Lighthouse station as it appeared the year before Michael J. Diepolder took over.
       

        On the night of 15 August 1889, while Michael was on duty, the three-masted schooner A. E. Vickery struck a shoal near the station and sank, resulting in no loss of life, but causing great financial loss to its owners. The crew were rescued and attended to at Rock Island Station.


Michael's inscription in an early station logbook.

        Around this time, Michael's mother and stepfather, Salome and Josef gave up proprietorship of the Plessis Hotel and removed to Rochester, Monroe County, where they continued in business together. There "Joseph Klupfel" was listed in the Rochester city business directory as operating a saloon (59 Chatham St. and 269 Central Ave. are addresses provided in the listings) from at least 1888 to 1890.
        Michael's lighthouse logs indicate that during the 1890's his mother continued to live in Rochester, and he took advantage of the opportunity by sending his daughter,
Ada, there for schooling.  Ada lived with her grandparents during the school year and came home on weekend and holidays to visit her father at the station. Some of Michael's records show that Ada and "her grandfather" visited the lighthouse, references to Josef Klupfel, who was the only "grandfather" Ada ever really knew, since both Engelbert Diepolder and Samuel Kilborn were dead by the time Ada was three.

        Sometime between 1890 and 1894, Michael took Emma E. Row, born 16 October 1857, as his third wife—in the 1900 census the couple reported that they had been married for ten years, but the record of their marriage which took place at Gananoque, Leeds & Grenville Co., Ontario, was dated 2 July 1894.
         In the marriage record, Michael's occupation was given as "saddler," echoing his occupation of "harness maker" that was previously indicated in the 1880 census, and illustrating that lighthouse keeping was not his only line of work. Interestingly, his name was anglicized as "Michael John" by the recorder, and his mother's name was given as "Helen" Steiner rather than as Salome. His religious denomination was given as Episcopalian, and Emma's was given as Methodist. The officiating minister was Rev. F. C. Reynolds, and the ceremony was witnessed by John H. Kuek of Fisher's Landing and Nellie Johnston of Gananoque.
         The marriage record gave Thousand Island Park, on Wellesley Island, directly across the river from Rock Island, as their place of residence at the time of marriage. Thousand Island Park was, and remains to this day, a collection of cottages which residents rented from a corporation thus being impermanent residences; it is unclear whether Michael retained his home at LaFargeville concurrently.

        In the fall of 1894, after years of Michael's petitions to the Lighthouse Service, work began to raise the light tower approximately five feet from its position in the center of the island, so it could be seen over the roof of the dwelling. It was raised atop a new solid octagonal wall of red granite laid in Portland cement mortar beneath. Michael was involved in overseeing the workers and tracked their progress in the station logs. Work was completed that fall.
        He was also quite a handyman himself, often cutting glass for windows, carving wood for house repairs, painting the outbuildings, planting geraniums and roses in spring, and even digging a root cellar: "There, now there is a decent vegetable cellar!," he exclaimed with pride the day he completed it.
 
        In 1894, a photographer visited Rock Island and captured the only known image of Michael Diepolder at the station. John Haddock published the photo a year later in his book The Picturesque St. Lawrence River under the auspices of the Thousand Islands Club. The photo depicts the tower as it looked just before it was repainted and raised atop granite blocks to improve visibility the same year. Michael was noted for his beautification of Rock Island; some of the trees he planted are visible in the foreground, one of which (center) appears to have been grafted.

 

        On 21 March 1895, Emma gave birth to their first and only child, Lawrence Engelbert Diepolder, named partly in honor of his grandfather.  Proud father Michael wrote in his logs: "A young visitor arrived here 7:50a.m. It's a 9# boy."  But that year was one of loss for the family as well—in his lighthouse logs for 20 August 1895, Michael recorded: "Keepers mother died 5:am at Rochester NY this 20th day of August cause of death supposed to have been heart failure. I received a telegram 12:m and started for her home 3:30pm and returned to the station 24 inst. 6:pm."  Notice of the death of "Saloma Klupfel" was published in Rochester's Union Advertiser (pg. 6, col. 6) the same day, stating: "Saloma, wife of Joseph Klupfel, died this morning at his home, No. 40 Hanover street, aged 61 years. A husband, one son, and a sister survive. The funeral will be held at 9 o'clock Thursday morning from St. Joseph's Church." Her death certificate (City of Rochester, Register No. 146) indicates her age at death was 62 years, 7 months; cause of death was heart disease; she was attended by Dr. E. J. Bice. Burial was made in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester (Section H, Tier 9, doube grave 49). (Today, a school athletic field marks the spot of their former home on Hanover St. in Rochester.)

        The next year was a happier one—on 26 November 1896, Ada married a local man, Floyd Lewis Carter, a carpenter and mechanic from Omar. At first Michael did not approve of the marriage, but finally relented, and his later logs describe Floyd's hunting and fishing exploits on the island.
        According to the 1900 federal census of the town of Orleans, Jefferson Co., Michael was a naturalized citizen, and in that year he and Emma were renting the keeper's house on Rock Island. In this year the generator house was established on the island.
        According to the records kept by the Livingston Masonic Library for the Grand Lodge of New York, Free & Accepted Masons, Michael Johannes Diepolder joined LaFargeville Lodge #171 in 1901.  He was 46 years old at the time, with his occupation listed as "lightkeeper."  He took his first degree on 18 March 1901, his second degree on 1 April 1901, and his third degree on 15 April 1901.
        In the early morning hours of 16 July 1901, after extinguishing the light at 5 a.m. as was customary, Michael went for a swim in the river and had a heart attack. He had suffered from heart disease for six months prior.  Michael was able to pull himself up onto the dock and stumble to the workshop where he fell, hit his head, and died.   After calling him and receiving no answer, Emma walked out to the workshop where she found Michael dead on the floor.  According to records of the Orleans Town Clerk, his body was attended by J. L. Cole.


Station logbook entry for the day of Michael's death.
  


 
Obituary for Michael Diepolder, printed The Post-Standard, Syracuse, Wednesday Morning, July 17, 1901,
page 11 in the "On the St. Lawrence" section.


        Concerning his death an undated diary of unknown authorship currently in the collection of Hawn Memorial Library in Clayton, New York, reads:

     "The keeper of the Rock Island Light was Mr. Diepolder, who wore a helmet and sailed a small blue skiff, generally standing up....Mr. Diepolder went in swimming, managed to get back on the light house dock, and dropped dead of heart disease...."

        Two days later, Michael's funeral was held at the LaFargeville Methodist Episcopal Church, conducted by the Masonic Lodge and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, of which he was a member.  He was buried with full Masonic rites in Grove Cemetery, LaFargeville.
        Emma returned to the station where she carried out his duties until his annual service anniversary that September. By doing so, she became the only woman ever to function officially at Rock Island Lighthouse.

        News of Michael's death soon reached relatives; a letter of condolence, written from Toronto on July 23rd by Floyd's niece, Louisa Flunder, still survives.

(Click the envelope to read Louisa's letter)

        Logs kept by keepers in later years indicate that Emma frequently visited the station with her son Lawrence. She and Lawrence eventually moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she died in 1923 at age 65. Lawrence died there too, in 1978.

        During the early years of their marriage, Ada and her husband Floyd Carter (at right) lived at Thousand Island Park on Wellesley Island, across the channel from Rock Island Lighthouse, where the first three of their children were born from 1902 to 1907. Their marriage created an interesting intersection with the history of Rock Island: Floyd's sister Eva Mae married Walter S. Collins, whose uncle Joseph Collins and grandfather John B. Collins were both formerly keepers of Rock Island Lighthouse. Joseph Collins, Jr. married Elizabeth Connant, whose sister Jane was a wife of keeper Willard L. Cook. Thus, altogether their union ultimately brought five keepers into relation with one another either by blood or marriage (including Emma).

        By 1913, Ada and Floyd removed to the village of Omar, where they spent the remainder of their married lives. Here Floyd (who towered above his neighbors at 6'3" in height) operated an automobile and engine repair service. He was also a carpenter with a reputation for excellence in woodfinishing, and was sought after to do work on some of the expensive luxury rivercraft used by the wealthy summer residents of the 1000 Islands. Ada (who stood at a whopping 6'1" in height!) probably continued to teach throughout her adult life

        Floyd died suddenly and unexpected on 5 February 1935. He had gotten up about 4am and went to look at the fire in the furnace. He then glanced at the thermometer and spoke to Ada about the weather. After returning to bed Ada heard him make a peculiar noise and upon investigating, found him dead´┐ŻAda was left a widow after 38 years of marriage, by the same spectre of heart disease which had taken her father so unexpectedly in her youth.

        After Floyd's death in 1935, Ada continued to live at their home in Omar, but by now death had exacted a heavy toll on her happiness: first, her mother died when Ada was eight, followed by her grandmother in 1895 just before her marriage, then her father dropped dead of heart failure while tending the lighthouse in 1901, and finally, her first-born son died in 1917 at ten years of age. At this juncture in her life Ada's personality is said to have changed: she became fervently religious and was even known to dress in black from head to toe, march into the village of Omar and preach hellfire from the street corner. She also began to keep a tighter grip in her children's affairs. Sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's, she sold the Carter home and moved in with her daughter, Kathleen, who resided with her husband Nelson Philow on his family farm near Omar, where they operated a roadside gas and food station for passersby.

        On June 5, 1970, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation in the Division of History at the National Park Service issued a Surplus property Study for Rock Island Lighthouse Station. The report was written by George C. MacKenzie and documented the history and relevance of the station so as to help the government decide whether to dispose of it. As part of his research, MacKenzie interviewed several people with an interest in the lighthouse, including Ada and Kathleen, as follows:

        "From two local residents of the area, Mrs. Floyd Carter, whose maiden name was Ada Diepolder, and Mrs. Kathleen Philo, her daughter, the identities of all but one of the lighthouse keepers were learned. Starting with the illustrious William Johnston, called pirate, patriot, rebel, and hero, they follow to the best of our knowledge in the following order from the third lighthouse keeper: Willard Cook, Foster Drake, Michael J. Diepolder, father of Ada Diepolder and Lighthouse Keeper from 1886-1901, Eugene Butler, and John Belden. Unfortunately, Mrs. Carter at her advanced age of 92 was unable to remember much as to her father's tenure as lighthouse keeper. They occupied the present lighthouse station after it had been rebult. It was hoped that Mrs. Carter might have pictures of the first lighthouse keeper's dwelling with the original tower, but this hope was in vain," (pp 8-9).

        It is said that during her later years Ada spent many hours entertaining graciously attentive visitors with stories about her childhood spent at the lighthouse with her father, and how they would watch the big ships go by. Ada died on 7 May 1974 at age 95by then a great-great-grandmotherand the funeral was conducted from Kathleen's home. Her son Austin Carter, who had left New York permanently by 1946, followed Ada in death a few months later after a lengthy fight with cancer. Daughter Kathleen survived them all until her death in 1984.
 
Austin Sinclair Carter
Kathleen (Carter) Abbott Philow

        Since Lawrence Diepolder never had any children, the offspring of Ada and Floyd Carter constitute the only descendants of this Diepolder family in America today. In fact, only their son Austin had children, and most of his descendants, including daughter Barbara Carter (below) are living, of whom the author of these pages, Mark Wentling, is eldest grandson.

 

Descendants of Michael J. Diepolder at Rock Island Lighthouse, on 19 July 2002. From left to right: (back row) Tina Marie O'Brien; Mark Avery Wentling; Barbara Marie (Carter) O'Brien; Vurlynn "Butch" R. Wentling; Mrs. Sandi Wentling; David Blanchett; Laura Ann Wentling; (front row) Tyler Blanchett; Lacy, Dustin, Timmy (children of Tina).

 

Barbara (Carter) O'Brien, great-granddaughter of Michael J. Diepolder, and Mark A. Wentling,
her grandson, inside the tower at Rock Island, October 6th, 2001.

 


>>> Read excerpts from Michael's Lighthouse Logs <<<

For More Information....

Wentling, Mark A. "Steiner of Sulzberg and MArtinszell parishes, Schwaben, Bayern, Germany."  LEGENDS: Mark's Complete Ancestry on the Web [http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~legends/steiner.html]. Visited 3 December 2010.

Wentling, Mark A. "Diepolders of Memhoelz, Bavaria & Jefferson Co., New York."  LEGENDS: Mark's Complete Ancestry on the Web [http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~legends/diepolde.html]. Visited 21 October 2001.

Contact descendant Mark A. Wentling at keeper@rockislandlighthouse.org

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Online at: http://rockislandlighthouse.org/diepolder.html