Story of the Horton Bluff Replica

In December of 2001 I purchased a piece of land on the Bluff Road where I planed to build a cottage that would allow my family and I a place to get away and relax. Well I’m still waiting to relax and don’t see that coming for a few more years.

After walking the property and realizing that the two thousand feet of water frontage had some of the best views of the Avon River and Minas Basin I had seen my plans changed. I knew we had to build on the bluff over looking the mouth of the Avon.

This came with its challenges; the property was an original 1764 land grant of approximately seventy acres which would require us building a driveway that turned out to be over two thousand feet long. We found an old road bed that showed up on the survey maps done in the 1860’s when The Windsor and Annapolis Railway Company were preparing to run the first railway line though the Annapolis Valley. We spent three years clearing and rebuilding this road.

Sometime in those three years I came across a photo taken of the second Horton Bluff lighthouse around 1900 and thought that it would make an ideal cottage for this location. While talking with Lolita Crosby (widow of former light keeper Bill Crosby) about the challenges in determining the original dimensions from a 100 year old photograph she suggested contacting the Coast Guard. She told me they kept good records of the old lights and didn’t clean out the closet vary often. I was a little doubtful as to what they might have to help me in determining the actual size of the structure some forty plus years after they bulldozed and burnt the old lighthouse on the beach. Well let me tell you after many calls to a few different Coast Guard offices I was pleased to make contact with Judy Currie-Thibodeau, Navaids Information Officer in Saint John, New Brunswick. She had remembered seeing a file on the Horton Bluff lighthouse but wasn’t sure how much information we might get from that file. She said she would dig it out and let me know. I was traveling to Saint John the next week on business and went in to see if Judy had had any luck, she told me I would be pleased with what she found. She took me into the file room and handed me the Horton Bluff file folder (my heart racing) and when I opened it to find a copy of the original drawings I was grinning from ear to ear.

The drawing was marked “Engineer’s Office, Department of Marine, Ottawa, June 1883” and showing their age, a little tattered with some pieces missing. After some discussions I was loaned the drawing so that I could have them scanned into digital computer files. The original and a copy of the scan were returned to the file, I also gave Judy a framed copy of the photo that got me start down this path.

With the help from Kwik Kopy printing in Burnside we restored the 1883 drawing, filling in the missing sections digitally until we had a clean copy to work with. Next stop was the offices BMR Structural Engineering to see what we would need to change to come up to current building codes. After their review they supplied me with a new set of drawings changing only the stairs and the size of two windows on the second floor (original stairs were too steep and the windows too narrow of fire escape).

Now with drawings in hand it was off to the Kings County Municipal offices to get a building permit. First response “you can’t build a lighthouse, the bylaws won’t allow it”, what bylaws says you can’t build a lighthouse? The Coast Guard told me that I could not install an operating light but had no issues with building a full scale replica, minus the light. The county’s response “you will be too high” upon review we had 10 inches to spare. There were other issues around building in a location which required a railway crossing to be installed but in the end we were issued a building permit on February 14, 2008.

We broke ground June 19, 2008; our intention was to do everything we could possibly do ourselves. Due to building codes we need to have someone else do the pouring of the concrete walls after we erected them. One task that gives you a whole new respect for the tradesmen of the 1880’s is the timber frame aspect of a building of this design. We went to Dan and Kimberley Reagan of Timberhart Homes for help with this monumental task. Dan also came to site to turn the logs that were cut while clearing the top of the bluff into the lumber that we would need to frame the lighthouse. This allowed us to stay true to the original design using 3″x 6″ and 4″x 6″ studs in the construction. Hefler Forest Products in Lower Sackville cut all the other custom sized lumber required.

With the help of my son Nathan as well as Murray and Justin Clowry and a few other friends we were able to erect and sheath in the main structure in 2008.

Most of 2009 has spent building the garage that will act as the utility build housing the controls for the off grid power system that will supply power via an underground cable to the lighthouse. After erecting the garage I was given some photos by Chris Mills that showed that there was a building at the original site with a similar orientation as the garage we are building on this new site. The garage was also constructed using the 3″x 6″ and 4″x 6″ timber milled on site.

The other major step in 2009 was the manufacture of the lantern room for the top of the tower. Once again I was lucky and able to find Jimmy Lockhart a descendant of the Rathburn family (the original keepers of the Horton Light) who was a welder to recreate this lantern room from the 1883 drawings.

In 2010 the windows and siding were installed, the electrical wiring was roughed in and some landscaping was completed. On July 30th 2010 I was involved in an auto accident that brought work to a halt for the remainder of the year.

Work resumed early in 2011, the propane system that will provided heat and cooking gas to the lighthouse was installed as well as the solar power system that will provide power via the underground cable was installed and the well and the disposal system were completed by the end of July. The second half of 2011 was spent insulating, drywalling, crack filling and painting as well as installing the hardwood floors.

I have had many visitors to the top of the bluff since starting this project some have come on the water by sailboat or kayak, I have had hikers on the beach and the old railway and some who remember visiting the last keepers (Henry Harper and Rodney Henshaw) to live in the “1883 Horton Bluff Lighthouse and Keepers Dwelling” as well as descendants of the first light keepers to tend that old lighthouse the Rathburn Family.

It has amazed me how after starting this project just how this piece of land and my own life have ties to that original Lighthouse that caught my eye in an old photo. My father Cecil Myles who passed away a few months before my third birthday worked as a helper at the Horton Light before I was born doing small tasks that needed attending to. I had no knowledge of this before starting down this path of recreating a piece of local history. The land was purchased from Blake Starratt after his aunt Bessie Rodgers passed away in December 2000. Blake’s parents Albert “Chick” and Eva Starratt were the keepers at the old light from 1940 until 1946.

I hope to learn more about the keepers of the original Horton Bluff Lighthouse and the part this little light played in the shipping history of Avonport and Hantsport area.This project will most likely take us two more years to complete and hopefully we will learn a lot more about the lighthouse that inspired us and the keepers that maintained it through the hey day of shipping on the Avon River.