|Rochester Harbor, NY|
Description: In 1822, the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse was built on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Genesee River and Lake Ontario. At that time, the river was navigable for four to five miles upstream and had a natural harbor with a width of 450 feet near its mouth. The lighthouse assisted vessels in locating the river, but sandbars made entering the harbor quite dangerous.
To remedy this situation, a pair of 2,500-foot wooden piers, spaced about 360 feet apart, was built at the river’s mouth in 1829. In 1834, Congress authorized the expenditure of $4,000 for beacon lights on the piers at Sodus Bay and the Genesee River. The pierhead beacon on the Genesee, which used Winslow Lewis’ system of lighting via lamps and reflectors, was not completed until 1838. A report issued that year by Lieutenant C.T. Platt of the Navy, stated that the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse “may be discontinued as soon as the (beacon) is established at the end of the pier,” but this announcement of the demise of the Genesee Lighthouse would prove to be a bit premature.
Cuyler Cook served until 1853 as keeper of the Genesee Lighthouse, which his father, Michael Cook, had helped build. His replacement was his own cousin, Samuel Phillips, whose duty was to tend the pier light, while a second keeper, Luther Jeffords, minded the tower light. On the evening of August 18th, 1853, Phillips twice attempted to reach the pier light by boat, but was stymied by heavy seas. Not ready to give up, Phillips asked Cuyler to make another attempt with him. After reaching the pierhead, Phillips disembarked from the rowboat, lit the beacon, but while preparing to leave the pier was knocked over by a large wave. Phillips managed to grab onto a bolt that had been set into the pier just the previous day and once on his feet again climbed back up into the safety of the tower.
In the meantime, Cuyler Cook’s boat had capsized, and after trying in vain to cling to the vessel, he set out for the pier. Battered by large waves, Cook was eventually taken under and drowned. Phillips was stranded at the beacon all night until a lifeboat reached him the next day. As the lake was still turbulent, the rescuers threw Phillips a line to tie about his waist, and after he jumped into the water, they pulled him to safety. The inscription on Cook’s gravestone reads:
He took him in his strength and bloom
When struggling with the seas and waves
He wove his garland for the tomb
A gale blew down the pierhead light in 1853, so the following year a new frame tower, outfitted with a sixth-order lens that illuminated an arc of 270°, was erected. A stout footbridge, elevated four feet, was built on the pier to permit the keeper to reach the beacon in even the severest gales. As a precaution, the keeper would at times fasten a safety rope to a railing on the footbridge to keep from being washed away, and for better traction in winter, he often wore cleats on his shoes.
In 1889, a range light was installed on the shore end of the western pier to work in conjunction with the pierhead light. First lit on October 7th, the tall pyramidal skeleton structure was spaced 1,923 feet from its companion light and exhibited three lights, arranged vertically with a separation of four feet. The center light was white, while the other two were red.
A steam fog signal was established on the pier in 1893, and when the pier was extended by 500 feet in 1896, both the wooden tower and fog signal building were relocated to the outer end.
A beacon was placed on the east pier in 1902, and the rear range light on the west pier was discontinued. The wooden east pier tower stood thirty-six feet tall and survived until 1947, when it was replaced with a metal skeletal tower. A skeletal red metal tower, topped by a box housing a light and fog signal, was inaugurated as the new western pierhead light in 1931. That same year, a brick building was built near the present day carousel to provide electricity for the signals and to house equipment for the radio beacon, whose tower was erected nearby. The station at the entrance to Rochester Harbor had entered the modern era and greatly improved a mariner’s ability to navigate in contrary conditions.
The present cylindrical “D9” tower was installed on the west pier in 1995. Though it fulfills its duty well, it lacks the charm and intrigue of its predecessors. The old red tower from the west pier can reportedly be seen at the Rochester Gas and Electric’s Russell Station in Greece, NY.
Located at the end of the pier on the western side of the entrance to the Genesee River. 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.