Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-12-30.
The Great Sodus Bay is one of the largest and deepest natural harbor on Lake Ontario. After a series of jetties and piers were built to protect the harbor in 1834, the Sodus Outer Lighthouse was established to mark the entrance.
The Army Corps. Of Engineers started construction of a series of jetties and piers to provide protection for the harbor at Sodus Point in 1829. When construction was completed in 1834, Congress appropriated $4,000 and another $3,750 the following year for beacon lights on the piers on Sodus Bay and the Genesee River.
By July 1837, a thirty-foot-tall stone lighthouse was constructed at the end of the west pier and was first lit on the night of July 15, 1837. A gale in 1857 destroyed a portion of the pier taking the lighthouse with it. Rather than rebuilding a single stone lighthouse, twin masthead range lights were erected in its place.
Due to the natural attributes of Sodus Bay, it was considered an ideal harbor to export goods. In 1852, a proposal was set forward to make a railroad connecting Sodus Bay to the coal fields in central Pennsylvania, allowing coal to be transported via the Great Lakes.
It would take nearly twenty years to construct the rail line, but by 1872, the line was complete and a small trestle at the west end of the bay was established.
By 1871, the Lighthouse Board was looking to replace the outer masthead light and outfit both lanterns with upgraded lenses. A new 27-foot-tall square pyramidal wooden front range beacon was erected between September and October of 1872, and to provide safe passage to it, an elevated catwalk was established. Both the inner and outer lights were provided sixth-order Fresnel lens.
An entry in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1873 had the details:
496. Big Sodus Beacon, (front,) New York - A wooden beacon was built in September and October, 1872, on the Light-house Crib at the head of west pier, and a fixed white light has been exhibited since October 29, 1872, from a sixth-order lens illuminating 360°. The former front "Range" beacon was removed from the middle of west pier. An elevated walk 1,150 feet long was erected from new beacon.
Due to the exposed nature of the pier, by 1880, some 660 feet of the elevated catwalk needed rebuilding. The outer beacon was repainted, and the inner beacon was lined along the inside with wood and painted.
1885 Sodus Inner Light
By 1884, the pier was extended and the wooden lighthouse was moved to within 28 feet of the north end of the west pier. The elevated catwalk was extended some 270 feet to allow safe passage to the outer beacon. At that time, sections of the walk on the shore-ward were repaired for a distance of 400 feet.
By 1886, sections of the catwalk were dilapidated. That year, some 260 feet were entirely rebuilt. Four years afterward, the Lighthouse Board had signed a contract for time and materials to rebuild 620 linear feet of the elevated walk and by 1891, the work was finished.
The bad fortune for the elevated catwalk continued in 1892 when the Laura of Windsor, Ontario broke free while being towed out of the harbor, slamming into the pier and destroying ten feet of the catwalk. The keeper was able to repair the damage, allowing it to be used once again.
A few years later, in 1895, the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board detailed the extensive work carried out at the Sodus Bay Lighthouse as well as the new "inner" beacon on the west pier. The following was entered into the Annual Report for 1895:
1085, 1086, 1087. Big Sodus, at Sodus Point, Lake Ontario, New York - Extensive repairs and improvements were made to the keeper's dwelling, much of which was rebuilt. A new picket fence was built about the keeper's dwelling, and about 325 feet of sidewalk were laid. The inner beacon on the west pier was rebuilt upon an improved model. The new beacon is square in plan, painted white; has a balcony with black hand rail and copper ventilating ball above the lantern. The focal plane of the light is now about 24 feet above the water, instead of 20 feet, as before. The characteristic of the light remains unchanged.
The 1896 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board had included details which were left out of the 1895 report. The following is the text of the report:
1197-1199. Big Sodus, at Sodus Point, Lake Ontario, New York - In the previous year extensive modifications and repairs were made to the keeper's dwelling, and a substantial and commodious beacon with a lantern, closets, and storage room was built to replace the old one, which was unserviceable. This is mentioned here, as it was omitted in the Board's last annual report.
Sodus Outer Lighthouse after being raised 15 feet in 1901
Once again, in 1900, the catwalk was in need of repair. That year, 440 feet of the walk were rebuilt. A year later, the outer pierhead light was raised 15 feet giving it a focal plane of 48 feet. At that time, as the Sodus Bay Lighthouse was discontinued, the sixth-order Fresnel lens in the pier lighthouse was replaced with the fourth-order lens from the Sodus Bay Lighthouse. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1901 had the following entry detailing the changes:
66, 67, 68. Big Sodus, at Sodus Bay, Lake Ontario, New York - The outer pierhead beacon was raised 15 feet. The timber bed sills were replaced with four concrete piers, built up from the water level to the beacon sills. On June 10, 1901, the characteristic of the light was changed from sixth-order fixed white to fourth-order fixed white, varied by a white flash every two minutes. Various repairs were made. On the same date the main light on the bluff, three-fifths of a mile westerly of the entrance to Big Sodus Bay, was permanently discontinued. The oil house was moved near the inner pierhead beacon.
Although the Sodus Point Lighthouse was discontinued, it still remained the keeper's residence for the pier lights, therefore upkeep on it continued over the years. In 1902, some 328 feet of board fence were rebuilt around the place. And in 1903, the protective jetty along the shore required some 75 feet to be reconstructed.
The next year, the characteristic of the light was altered by reducing the interval between the flashes from two minutes to thirty minutes.
A fog signal was established at the Sodus Outer Lighthouse in 1925. The Strombos marine signal operated on compressed air, had a characteristic of 4-seconds on, 24-seconds off, and was audible for nearly five miles.
Over the years, coal had remained the main export. By 1927, well over three million tons of coal had made its way through the harbor, and there was no sign of it slowing down. That year, the coal trestle was completely rebuilt. Its length was extended to 800 feet and its height was raised to 60 feet.
In 1938, both pier lighthouses were replaced. The wooden inner lighthouse was swapped out for a 25-foot steel skeletal tower and the outer lighthouse was rebuilt. When the outer tower was rebuilt, it was heightened by nine feet and to ensure it would last, it was enclosed with ¼-inch steel plates. At that time, the lighthouse was also changed over to electricity via a submarine cable connected to a control house at the shore end of the pier.
The fourth-order Fresnel lens from the old tower was moved over and displayed a group-flashing pattern of 1.5s flash, 2s eclipse, 1.5s flash, 5s eclipse. That same year, a new diaphone fog signal was installed featuring a 30-second blast pattern.
At some point, the rear range (steel skeletal tower closest to shore) tower was discontinued.
Coast Guard personnel continued to occupy the Sodus Bay Lighthouse until 1980. When the outer pier light was automated in 1984, the Coast Guard turned the 1871 Sodus Point Lighthouse and outbuildings over to the Town of Sodus Point.
The Sodus Bay Historical Society, founded in 1972, leased the buildings from the town and opened the historic lighthouse as a maritime museum on July 4, 1985. The group also operates a gift shop within the museum. In 1988, the fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed from the outer lighthouse on the pier and returned to the 1871 Sodus Bay Lighthouse.
- Annual Report of the Light House Board, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
- Various Government Documents, Federal & State Governments, Various dates.
- Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia, Larry & Patricia Wright, 2011.
- www.sodusbaylighthouse.org website.
- www.historicsoduspoint.com website.
Directions: Starting at the intersection of Route 104 and Route 14, Make the turn onto Route 14 and head north towardds the lake. Follow it to the village of Sodus Point. Make sure you follow Route 14, it does a few zig-zags, but if you follow the signs, you will be fine. Make a left onto Ontario Street (at firehall) and follow it to Wickham Blvd. Make a right onto Wickham, and follow it to the parking area at the end. From the parking area, you can walk to the pier and see the lighthouse.
Access:The tower is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed, grounds open.
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