Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-10-21.
Although there was a lighthouse at the mouth of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie as early as 1818, that tower did little to mark the hazardous reefs that dotted the entrance to the Niagara River. That job would initially fall to the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse, but be replaced by the Buffalo Intake Crib Lighthouse in 1908.
Buffalo's rise to prominence started in 1825, when the western terminus of the Erie Canal was completed, linking Buffalo to New York City. By the 1840s and 1850s, vessel traffic into and out of the Buffalo Harbor exploded.
However, that lighthouse did very little to help mariners that had to navigate the narrows and head further up the Niagara River towards the harbors at Black Rock and North Tonawanda, which was nicknamed "the Lumber City."
On March 3, 1849, Congress had authorized "$10,000 for a light boat on Horseshoe Reef, Niagara River, or for a lighthouse on same point." For some reason, lawmakers thought that the amount would be sufficient for a lightship, and double that amount would suffice for a lighthouse, pending the outcome of a survey.
The survey was carried out, and less than a month later, U.S. Navy Commander Abraham Bigelow had recommended a lighthouse be constructed. The site he recommended was just offshore from the Buffalo Harbor, at a location where Lake Erie begins to narrow as lake waters are forced into the Niagara River. His estimated cost for the project was $45,000.
There was just one problem. The location selected was on Middle Reef as it was a more central location compared to Horseshoe Reef, however, that land belonged to the British Crown. Stephan Pleasonton, Fifth Auditor of the Treasury Department, and the man that was in charge of the nation's aids to navigation, advised the Department of State to contact the British Government about getting the lighthouse constructed.
Pleasonton didn't have a lot of confidence that the request would be approved, as a similar request regarding a lighthouse in the Bahamas, that was denied in the past. The request made its way to the U.S. Minister in London, Abbott Lawrence.
Lawrence sent a note that made its way through several layers of government to the governor general who found it necessary to consult with the provincial government in Ontario. The note that was sent was accompanied by a memorial and petition signed by many merchants and residents of Buffalo.
As a river lighthouse stood to benefit Canadian maritime interests, the British had a decision to make. They could establish and support the lighthouse themselves, or they could cede a small portion of land to the United States, and let the Americans fund and build it.
On April 23, 1850, the Executive Council of the Province of Canada approved the proposal to cede the necessary land to the United States. That decision was sent back to London in December of 1850, where the U.S. Minister and the Foreign Secretary met to sign the agreement.
The British Government agreed to provide 1/3 of the Middle Reef, which was an acre of underwater reef, to the United States, provided they did indeed build a lighthouse, and refrained from erecting any kind of fortification. The deal was forwarded on to President Millard Fillmore for approval, which he later signed.
Congress appropriated an additional $25,000 on March 3, 1851 to be added to the $20,000 appropriated on March 3, 1849. On August 15 of that year, Isaac S. Smith submitted to the Lighthouse Board a detailed description of his plan to construct the lighthouse at Horseshoe Reef.
Even though the Lighthouse Board did not agree with the plan, Isaac S. Smith was awarded the contract to construct the Horshoe Reef Lighthouse. The discovery that the reef was not solid rock, bad weather, and other problems delayed the start of the project, resulting in Smith's contract being annulled.
Due to the numerous delays, the appropriations had expired. A new appropriation of $45,000 was made on August 3, 1854. The following year, the government constructed a stone foundation and upon it, erected four iron columns which supported a single-story wooden lighthouse.
From the lantern of the new lighthouse, a new fourth-order Fresnel lens flashed for the first time on the night of September 1, 1856. Standing fifty feet above the river, the light was visible for ten miles into Lake Erie.
The Horshoe Reef Lighthouse would continue to serve the two nations and by the late 1800s, plans were being made for the construction of the Black Rock Channel, which would provide a protected channel, walled off from the Niagara River. The new channel would run from the Buffalo Harbor to Black Rock, allowing vessels heading into the Niagara River to bypass the numerous reefs, rapids, and strong currents.
This new protected channel would be large and deep enough to handle the largest of Great Lakes freighters with a depth of 21 feet and the new lock that was capable of handing freighters up to 650 feet in length. Construction of the new channel and lock was finished in 1914, effectively letting mariners bypass the dangerous entrance to the Niagara River and diminishing the need for the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse.
At the start of the 1900s, the population of the City of Buffalo was 352,387 and was projected to hit 400,000 by 1910. In order to continue this growth, the city would need a reliable source of fresh drinking water. The city had two pumping stations along the Niagara River, one near Massachusetts Street and an older backup station on Bird Island.
As chlorination wasn't introduced until August of 1914 and the city's sewage wasn't treated before it was discharged into Lake Erie, Typhoid outbreaks were commonplace. By May of 1903, the City of Buffalo had taken water samples from the lake and decided that it was time to begin a careful study of the water supply question. In the meantime, all residents were advised to boil their drinking water.
In 1907, the Buffalo city health commissioner, Dr. Ernet Wende, ordered the Bird Island water intake closed against the opposition from the city's aldermen and residents. That year, the number of cases of Typhoid had dropped significantly.
By 1908, the City of Buffalo had established a new water intake in Lake Erie's Emerald Channel, not far from the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse. To mark it for mariners, two white lights were established on it in 1908 creating the Buffalo Intake Crib Lighthouse.
As the new intake crib light was significantly larger than the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse, the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1920. The Buffalo Intake Crib Lighthouse continues to serve up fresh water for city residents as well as mark the way for mariners.
Directions: The light sits off shore in Lake Erie near the mouth of the Niagara River. It can be viewed from the Buffalo Main Lighthouse or from Lasalle Park in Buffalo. To get to Lasalle Park, whether taking the I-190 North or South, get off at the Porter Ave. exit. From here, you will either take a right or a left, but you want to head towards the lake. At the foot of Porter Ave, you will make a left onto Amvets Drive. From here, you should be able to use a telephoto lens to get a pretty good shot light.
Access: The water intake is owned by the City of Buffalo. No access is permitted.View more Buffalo Intake Crib Lighthouse pictures