|Sodus Outer, NY|
Description: Six miles long and three miles wide, Sodus Bay is the largest natural harbor on Lake Ontario. Native Americans called the shimmering, land-locked bay Assorodus meaning Silvery Waters, and white settlers, attracted by the bay’s potential, arrived in the area in 1792.
In 1838, Naval Lieutenant C.T. Platt included the following comments on Sodus Bay in his report to the Secretary of the Treasury. “The excellent qualities of this harbor are too well known by the mariner to need further comment, and it must eventually become a port of immense importance in a commercial point of view. Nature has given to it that protection which must entitle it to the most favorable consideration of the Government.”
The government had already paid the harbor quite a bit of attention in the form of $4,500 in 1824 for a lighthouse and a similar amount a decade later for a beacon light on one of the piers constructed at the mouth of the bay.
Ishmael D. Hill successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Treasury to be appointed the first keeper of the Sodus Bay Lighthouse. A portion of his petition reads: “your Petitioner having done all the service to this Country that was in his power, & having lost all his property in the war [of 1812] now asks your Honor the post of Keeper of this Lighthouse – he is a sailor by profession, well acquainted with the Lake & with the entrance in the Port of Sodus, for which reason your Petitioner thinks he would frequently be of material service to Vessels that might be entering the said Port.” Hill’s loss of multiple vessels in the war and his year spent as a prisoner certainly helped him win the appointment as keeper, but four years later, in 1829, he was disqualified by reason of insanity, and Bennet C. Fitzhugh was appointed keeper in his stead.
In 1868, the dwelling and tower were slightly repaired to make them serviceable, but they were not considered to be “worth general repair.” The Lighthouse Board requested $14,000 for a new dwelling with attached tower in its annual report for 1869, and Congress responded with the necessary funds in July of 1870.
Work on the new Sodus Bay Lighthouse began in August of 1870 and was completed on June 30, 1871. The two and a half story dwelling and tower were built of limestone from quarries in Kingston, Ontario using the same general plan for the lighthouse at Stony Point, New York. The focal plane of the new light was forty-five feet above the ground. The old tower and dwelling were demolished, and the resulting stone and debris were used to build a seventy-foot-long jetty at the west end of the lighthouse lot to prevent erosion of the bank. Stones from this old jetty have been recovered and used to build the four stone piles that today mark the site of the original dwelling. A metal plaque set on a large rock sits in the middle of a circular ring of bricks identifying the location of the first tower.
Piers at the entrance to the harbor were first constructed in 1835 and originally marked by a stone beacon that served as “a mere guide for entering the harbor.” Later, range lights consisting of lanterns suspended from masts were used. In 1872 a wooden tower that housed a sixth-order Fresnel lens was built at the end of the west pier. To help the keepers reach the light in foul weather, an elevated pier, 1,150 feet long, was erected the same year.
In 1892, a large storm house, which covered the rear entrance to the dwelling and a cellar, was enlarged to served as a summer kitchen. A circular oil house was also erected 128 feet south of the lighthouse that year and lined with brick to store the volatile kerosene that was introduced as fuel for the station’s lamp.
The present square pyramidal pierhead tower, which has a focal plane of fifty-one feet, was erected in 1938. At that time, the source of the light was converted from kerosene to electricity. While lumber and grain had early been important commodities for Sodus Point, coal later became the primary cargo shipped from the port. In 1940, more than one million tons of coal was shipped from Sodus Point Harbor. The coal industry thrived until the late 1960s when power generation plants were converted to oil.
Edwin Ward was the final keeper to live in the Sodus Point Lighthouse. He left the dwelling in 1953, and the lighthouse apparently sat empty until Congressman Frank Hortan led an 18-month effort that ended with the lighthouse being transferred from the General Services Administration to the Town of Sodus in 1984. The property included a half-acre of land in addition to the lighthouse. The Town of Sodus leased the property to the Sodus Bay Historical Society, which has established a maritime museum, research library, and small gift shop in the lighthouse.
Located at the end of the pier marking the western side of the entrance to
Sodus Bay. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Pier open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Pier open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.