|Ogdensburg Harbor, NY|
Description: Lighthouse Point, situated at the confluence of the Oswegatchie and St. Lawrence Rivers, has an eventful history centered on the struggles of three nations to control this portion of the New World. In 1749 Abbé François Picquet constructed Fort de La Présentation on the point to convert members of the Iroquois Confederacy to Catholicism and to the French side in the mounting tensions with the British. In less than a decade, the fort, the first permanent settlement in northern New York State, had attracted over 3,000 Native Americans, a substantial population considering that Montreal at that time had only 4,000 residents. Still, the British presence in North America greatly outnumbered the French, and in 1759 the fort was abandoned during the French and Indian War, which ended in 1763 with control of Canada passing from the French to the British.
Prior to the War of 1812, Ogdensburg was becoming an important port, and in 1811 a Custom House had been established in a building constructed two years earlier to serve as a warehouse for distributing goods, received at the port, throughout the region. This building remains standing and is the oldest Federal building still occupied and used by the government in the continental United States.
In 1834, an acre and a half of land near the site of the fort was sold by the Nathan Ford family to the Federal Government, and later that year the first Ogdensburg Lighthouse, a dwelling with a lantern room containing ten lamps and reflectors arranged in a circular fashion, was constructed thereon. A fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the lamps and reflectors in 1855.
On July 15, 1870, Congress appropriated $13,000 for the “renovation and repair” of the station, and the following month work commenced on a new lighthouse. The design used was the same as that followed the previous year for the Stony Point Lighthouse near Henderson, New York, except that the tower at Ogdensburg would rise to a height of thirty-nine feet, eight inches - six feet, eight inches taller than the Stony Point tower. The dwelling and attached tower were built of square-cut, rough-faced limestone obtained from the Kingston quarries. This same material was used to build the nearby Sisters Island Lighthouse as well as the Big Sodus Bay Lighthouse.
The windows in the Ogdensburg Lighthouse are decorated with limestone lentils and sills, and the exterior door that opens into the tower is surmounted by a lentil inscribed with 1870, the year of construction. Two gabled dormers were later added on each side of the dwelling’s sloping roof, but these have since been combined to form one larger dormer on each side. In 1890, a wooden extension and porch were added to the rear of the dwelling.
In 1900, the height of the tower was increased to sixty-five feet by the addition of brickwork between the original limestone tower and lantern room. This brick extension, with arches and corbeled brick detailing below the lantern, was nearly identical to that added at Stony Point in 1901. The brickwork has since been covered by a concrete-like facing. With additions made in different decades, the Ogdensburg Lighthouse ended up as a mixed breed architecturally, having an Italianate tower and a Queen Anne influenced dwelling. Also in 1900, a 270° Barbier & Fenestre Fresnel lens was substituted for the 180° lens previously in use to increase the arc of visibility of the light.
In 1964, Thomas G. and Laurel Roethel, residents of Ogdensburg, were notified by the General Services Administration that their bid for the lighthouse had been accepted after the city declined the opportunity to purchase the property. At the time of the transfer, tall weeds covered the lot, but the Roethels assured a local reporter, “this won’t be for long.” The family set about rehabilitating the lighthouse and turned it into a summer home.
In 2007, Blair Roethel, son of Thomas and Laurel Roethel, was living in the lighthouse when he applied to the City of Ogdensburg for a permit to demolish the structure. His application was denied because it did not include asbestos removal plans or structural reviews. This move, which attracted national media attention, was apparently a bluff by Roethel, who felt he was required to pay excessive taxes and fees on a historic structure that served as a symbol and tourist attraction for the community. Blair Roethel has since established a website for the lighthouse, confirmed his intention to save the lighthouse, and contacted the American Lighthouse Foundation, which may be able to help defray the large expense of restoring and maintaining such a historic property.
The Fort La Preséntation Association has acquired twenty-one acres nearby on Lighthouse Point and had hoped to construct a full-scale replica of the French fort in time for the 250th anniversary of the outbreak of the French and Indian War to be commemorated in 2010. An effort to clean up the land, which was formerly home to an Exxon Mobil storage area, far surpassed the original estimate of $3 million and affected the planned reconstruction timeline. “There still will be a signature event here,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Preséntation Association, “but wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a fort?” The fort would indeed be a great addition to the community, and if combined with the lighthouse, Lighthouse Point could easily become a premiere tourist destination.
During a private gathering on October 7, 2011 Ogdensburg Harbor Lighthouse was relit as an official aid to navigation. Fireworks preceded the 8:20 p.m. activation of the light. Blair Roethel told a reporter that his father, who passed away in 1987 at the age of fifty-six, had always dreamed that one day the decommissioned lighthouse would again shine its light for the shipping traffic on the St. Lawrence River.
Keepers: Amos Wells (1835 - 1851), Luman Newell (1851 - 1854), William Gardner (1854 - 1861), Talman Smith (1861 - 1867), Samuel Sayre (1867 - 1869), James Horton (1869 - 1871), John Ross (1871), Lewis Young (1871 - 1888), Samuel Penfield (1888 - 1913), Amherst E. Gunn (1913 - 1932), Daniel Hill (1932 - 1933), Harold Cook ( - 1942).
Photo Gallery: 1
Located on the shore of the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg, just west
of the mouth of the Oswegatchie River The lighthouse is a private residence. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is a private residence. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
The land just east of the lighthouse that extends out into the St. Lawrence River was the site of the New York Central Railroad Pier, which was used to ferry railroad cars across the St. Lawrence. The pier was struck by lightning on September 25, 1970 and burned.
See our List of Lighthouses in New York
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.