|Isle La Motte, VT|
Description: In 1666, French Captain Pierre de La Motte settled the first European outpost on Lake Champlain - a fort located near the present day Saint Anne’s Shrine. Several years earlier, Samuel de Champlain had set foot on Isle La Motte during his exploration of the lake that now bears his name. In 1967, F. L. Weber sculpted a seventeen-ton statue of Champlain in the Vermont pavilion during the Montreal Expo. After the expo, the monument was donated to Isle La Motte and now stands near St. Anne's Shrine.
A century and a half after the first settlement was established on Isle La Motte, a lantern was hung from a pine tree east of the old fort in 1829, establishing the first navigational light on Isle la Motte. The light was later moved to the upper window of a nearby stone house.
In 1853, Henry B. Smith, collector of customs at Plattsburgh, New York, recommended that the Lighthouse Board spend $5,000 to erect a lighthouse on the northern end of Isle La Motte. That same year, William D. Fraser reported that lighthouses were needed on Lake Champlain at Windmill Point and Crown Point along with small "bug lights" on Burlington Pier and on Isle La Motte, which would cost but $500 each. The plan for a small light on Isle La Motte was selected, and in 1856, the U.S. government purchased a parcel of land on the island for $50.
The private light formerly maintained on the island was replaced with a limestone tower supporting a large lens lantern. The conical tower rested on a rectangular base, where it had a diameter of five feet, and rose to a height of eighteen and a half feet, where its diameter was two and a half feet. An iron ladder mounted to the outside of the hollow tower provided access to a walkway that encircled the lantern. A local farmer was paid to tend the light, but on stormy nights, when the light was so critical, the lamp would often blow out. An 1871 Notice to Mariners warned : “The distance between the residence of the keeper and the beacon is too great to secure the proper attendance.” This problem led the Lighthouse Board to recommend that a new combined keeper’s dwelling and light tower be built at an estimated cost of $8,000.
Authorization came in 1879 for the lighthouse, a twenty-five-foot tower made of curved cast-iron plates, accompanied by a detached one-and-a-half-story keeper’s cottage. The tower, similar to those at Point Montara, California, and Nobska, Massachusetts, held a sixth-order Fresnel lens, which shown a fixed white light at a focal plane of forty-six feet. Keeper Wilbur F. Hill exhibited the light for the first time in 1881. A cast bronze fog bell was rung at the station in times of reduced visibility. The brick oil house was added to the station in 1906.
The iron tower, originally painted bright red, has an Italianate cast railing, arched windows, and molded cornices. Over time, it has faded to a light pink, called Nantucket red by the locals.
During the 1930s, in a cost saving measure, the Lighthouse Board replaced the lights along Lake Champlain with steel skeletal towers. One such tower, with an automatic beacon, replaced the Isle La Motte light in 1933, and the lightstation was sold into private hands.
One day Erika Clark was having a dental checkup in Chazy, New York, just across Lake Champlain from Isle La Motte, when her dentist asked if her father would be interested in purchasing the Isle La Motte Lighthouse. The answer turned out to be yes, and Robert C. Clark acquired the lighthouse from Nelson Hill, a relative of the Clark family's dentist, in 1949. The Clarks, then consisting of Robert and his two children, Lockwood and Erika, had previously enjoyed a small camp on Isle La Motte near St. Anne's Shrine and were happy to acquire a larger parcel on the island.
Lockwood Clark purchased Windmill Point Lighthouse in 1963 from Emil Bayer of Connecticut. After his wife passed away, Emil returned to Lake Champlain to visit the lighthouse he had owned for fourteen years, and ended up falling in love with Erika Clark. The two were married in 1968, and Erika moved away from Lake Champlain. Emil died in 1981, and a few years later Erika moved back to Lake Champlain to live in the dwelling at Isle La Motte Lighthouse.
In 2001, the Coast Guard considered the cost of replacing the deteriorating steel tower at Isle La Motte and determined it might be more cost effective to return the light to the original tower. Through the cooperation of the Clark family, owners of both the Isle La Motte Station and the Windmill Point Station, lights have been returned to these two lighthouses. The pedestal for the light had been removed from Isle La Motte Lighthouse, so the Clarks used the one left at Windmill Point as a pattern for building a new one for Isle La Motte. The Clarks also crafted and installed the mount and conduits for the solar panels needed at each of the lighthouses.
After almost seven decades of darkness, the Isle La Motte Lighthouse was restored to active service on October 5, 2002. The event was witnessed by a crowd of over 300, and the actual lighting was accompanied by the firing of a cannon and the vigorous tolling of the nearby fog bell by Lucky Clark. The light was relit by the schoolchildren of Isle La Motte led by Lois Cameron, great-granddaughter of Keeper Wilbur Hill, who first lit the light in the current tower in 1881. To end the program, the crowd joined in singing "This Little Light of Mine." You can watch the relighting ceremony in its entirety here.
Located on the northern end of Isle La Motte. The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.