|Buffalo Harbor, NY|
Description: In its early days as a port of entry, Buffalo's experience with lighthouses was to build them and then begin to ponder replacing them within a few years. This was true of the initial 1818 tower, which was quickly “obscured by the smoke of the village” and resulted in an appropriation for a better beacon by 1826.
In 1838, Lieutenant Charles T. Platt noted in an inspection report that while Buffalo's stone tower was currently adequate for the bustling ship traffic, what was a problem was the “insufficiency of the present entrance to the harbor.” The report describes how Buffalo's harbor was an elongated shape, being defined by the narrow but deep Buffalo Creek. The 1833 tower was erected on a substantial pier near the harbor’s entrance, but at this juncture the crowd of vessels was noted to be “of serious inconvenience.”
Despite these noted deficiencies, it wasn't until 1868 that definitive action was taken. In this year, work commenced on a planned 4,000-foot-long, detached breakwater located 2,500 feet out in the lake. This structure's purpose was to increase the harbor's size and allow ships more room for docking and maneuvering. In 1870, a $30,000 appropriation was made for two lights to be placed near the new breakwater’s extremities. As the breakwater would be difficult to reach in certain seasons, it was felt that the light near the northern end should include integrated quarters for the keepers. However, the small “appropriation would not admit of a very elaborate structure,” and even this would have to be made of timber.
On May 18, 1871, a forty-foot-square crib was sunk “twenty feet behind, and twenty-three feet from the northern end of the breakwater.” After the framing was extended to the surface of the water, work was halted until June 15th to permit the crib to settle into the lake bottom, after which six extra courses were added. Work on the lighthouse was suspended on September 9 and was not continued until the following spring due to the “continued and irregular settling of the pier.”
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board of 1890, recorded that the timbers and foundation beneath both the fog bell and the keeper's quarters were replaced. Also noted, was that the fog bell was ineffective, and should be replaced with a steam fog signal at an estimated cost of $4,300. After repeated requests, funding was made available in August of 1892, and a ten-inch, steam powered fog whistle was completed at the station and ready for operation on September 30, 1893. To make room for the fog signal house, the lighthouse was moved from the center of the crib to its northwest corner. The fog signal originally made a three-second blast every thirty seconds, but in 1895 this was changed to a single blast per minute after the signal was deemed “an annoyance to the people of Buffalo.” In addition, “a concave structure constructed somewhat on the principle of a parabolic reflector” was placed behind the whistle to “divert the sound waves from the city and toward the lake.”
According to the 1899 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, the tower's lantern was raised twelve feet to provide greater visibility. At this time, a watchroom was added below the lantern, and the oil room and fog bell machinery were relocated beneath the keeper's quarters. A new smokestack was also supplied for the fog signal boilers, which were themselves replaced in 1900. Despite these improvements, the breakwater station was subjected to numerous collisions during these years, including an incident with a tugboat in 1899, a barge in 1900, a freighter in 1909, and the steamer Norseman in 1910.
The old crib and foundation of the previous lighthouse were removed to a level four feet below the surface of the lake, whereon a new reinforced concrete base was laid. Rectangular in shape, the new lighthouse was constructed of “vitrified cream colored brick, with trim of Westerly granite,” and outfitted with a tile roof, and gutters and flashings made of tin-coated copper. Three bedrooms were located on the second floor along with the living room, pantry, and a lavatory. The first story contained the storeroom, engine room, office, and an additional lavatory. The interior walls of the lighthouse were finished with enameled brick. The floors in the bathroom and halls were ceramic tile, while the flooring for the living room, office, and bedrooms was maple.
The station's four-panel Fresnel lens turned “on a combination mercury pot and ball bearing support,” producing a white flash every five seconds. The strength of the light, provided by an oil vapor lamp, was estimated at 180,000 candlepower and had a range of 15 ¾ miles. Twin, twenty-two horsepower engines, ran the air compressor for the fog signal. A stored air reserve could be employed both for starting the engines and for operating the signal itself, if there were a delay in powering up the compressors. A pump that drew from either the lake or the cistern in the cellar furnished water for the station. The cellar also held a coal bin, oil tanks, air receivers and a paint room.
A radiobeacon was established at the breakwater station on April 15, 1927. In 1929, the brick on the exterior walls was replaced by steel.
In July of 1958 disaster befell the Buffalo Harbor Breakwater Lighthouse when the giant Great Lakes freighter Frontenac set too wide a course out of the Buffalo River. George Harrington, who was tending the light at the time, raced down three flights of stairs and scampered over to the breakwater, when he realized that even dropping its anchors could not prevent the Frontenac from striking the station. The lighthouse was driven backwards almost twenty feet and was left with a list of fifteen degrees. A temporary light tower had to be hastily erected to replace the crippled lighthouse. Newspapers throughout the country ran a picture of the leaning lighthouse with the caption: “Lighthouse Looks 'lit'.”
In 1961, a new light structure, a white, seventy-one-foot automated tower, was built at the end of a breakwater located even further out in the lake During that same year, the Pittsburgh-based American Demolition Company tore down the 1914 Buffalo Breakwater Lighthouse, that had become known as Buffalo's leaning lighthouse. The only remnant of the old breakwater station that marked the harbor entrance is an old metal oil house located a short distance from a modern, solar-powered beacon.
Head Keepers: Howard Winship (1872 - 1874), Myron Woolsey (1874 - 1875), Dudley Rockwell (1875 - 1877), James Stygall (1877 - 1893), Amherst Gunn (1893 - 1901), James Matchett (1901 - 1903), Edward Ahart (1903 - 1905), Michael Fitzpatrick (1903 - 1906), Howard Stram (1906 - 1910), Captain William Gordon (1910 - 1914), Thomas Holtan (1914 - 1928), James Rawson (1929 - 1944).
Located on the southern end of the outermost breakwater in Buffalo Harbor. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.