Mendota’s Lightkeeper

Built in 1895, Mendota only had one lightkeeper and his name was William Jilbert. Mr. and Mrs. Jilbert raised eight children in this three bedroom lighthouse and it was a rough existence, but one that Mr. Jilbert took great pride in. This can be felt in the logs he wrote for every day of service from 1895 until 1933, when the lighthouse became automated.

As one reads the logs they learn that the Jilbert's youngest child, eighteen month old Eunice, drowned in the canal. A friend of one of the Jilbert children, twelve year old Jessie Sullivan, also drowned in the canal. As you walk around the grounds of this lighthouse reservation you can feel the history.

To get to the lighthouse it is necessary to row across the canal. During winter it is not possible to walk across the ice due to a tide in the canal that renders the ice unsafe. In early times, the Jilberts built a rope bridge across the canal so the children could go to school. The one room school was up the main road less than a mile. In one of the log entries it was minus twenty-eight degrees and they tried to bring their horse across to the rope bridge to put it in the barn. The horse fell in the canal, but it survived.

In another entry Jilbert talks about a ship that sank off the coast—coal would wash up on the beach and he would collect it for his stove. Today we still collect this coal off the beach, especially when a noreaster blows in.

Behind the lighthouse are several hundred acres of the most beautiful undisturbed land in America. It is home to at least three bald eagles and wildlife of every description including Bruno, an impressive black bear that visits us regularly. Jilbert often mentions going to pick blueberries at a site originally cultivated by Indian women. That patch is still there today—undisturbed as it was one hundred years ago.

The Jilberts kept a cow in the barn, raised chickens and grew potatoes. One entry in the log mentions butchering the cow and selling the meat for provisions for three ships headed for Canadian waters. This was not an easy life, but it was a proud life.

As we continue to develop this site you'll be able to read much more about the Jilberts and the people who visited Mendota. And now you are part of that history.