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,
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
The Diepolders made their way north and by the summer of 1860 they had
settled in LaFargeville, Town of Orleans, Jefferson Co., New York—a
popular settling place in that region for German immigrants at the
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'.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
on 1 July 1890, Father E. G. Brice officiating). In 1878, Michael and
Mary had their first and only child together, Ada
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Lighthouse station as it appeared the year before Michael J. Diepolder
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
his death an undated diary of unknown authorship currently in the
collection of Hawn Memorial Library in Clayton, New York, reads:
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...."
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.
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.
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
(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
and grandfather John
were both formerly keepers of Rock Island Lighthouse. Joseph
Collins, Jr. married Elizabeth
whose sister Jane
was a wife of keeper Willard
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
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�Ada was left a widow after 38 years of marriage, by the same
spectre of heart disease which had taken her father so unexpectedly in
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
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,"
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 95—by then a
great-great-grandmother—and the funeral
was conducted from Kathleen's
home. Her son Austin
who had left New York permanently by 1946, followed Ada in
death a few months later after a lengthy fight with cancer. Daughter
survived them all until her death in 1984.
(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
is eldest grandson.
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
2000-2011, Rock Island
Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association.
Online at: http://rockislandlighthouse.org/diepolder.html