Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-10-05.
Construction of a new 10,200-foot-long south breakwater to expand the outer Buffalo harbor was started in 1897. Its construction would necessitate a new lighthouse to mark the southern entrance to the outer harbor, which would be called the South Buffalo, South Side Lighthouse.
Buffalo's rise to prominence started in 1825, when the western terminus of the Erie Canal was completed, linking Buffalo to New York City. At the time, Buffalo's population was 2,400. Within five years, the population had surged to 8,668, and in 1832, Buffalo was incorporated as a city.
In June of 1843, a local merchant named Joseph Dart, Jr. and an engineer named Robert Dunbar revolutionized the grain industry with their conception of the "Dart Elevator," which was the first steam-powered grain elevator. Previously shipped in bags, this new invention allowed grain be shipped in bulk.
During the 1840s through the 1850s, more than a dozen grain elevators were built in the Buffalo Harbor. This helped fuel Buffalo's growth in the latter half of the nineteenth century, bringing a massive influx of shipping traffic in the harbor. Most of the pioneers that would settle the West, would pass through Buffalo and continue their journey via rail or water.
To handle the increase in the number of vessels, construction of an outer harbor was started in 1869. A 7,609 foot breakwater was erected where the mouth of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie met, and paralleled the shoreline. Although it would take time, work was completed in 1893.
In 1897, several harbor improvement projects were started. At the southern end of the harbor, the 1,603-foot-long Stony Point breakwater was constructed. That same year, a 2,204-foot-long north breakwater was started just to the north of the Buffalo River.
The largest undertaking started at that time, was the 10,200-foot-long south breakwater, which would enclose the rest of the outer harbor from the original section, completed in 1869, to the Stony Point Breakwater. The construction would take five years, and finish up in 1902.
When the construction of the breakwalls was completed, there were two distinct entrances to the Buffalo Outer Harbor. The northern entrance, which was near the Buffalo Main Lighthouse, and the newly created southern entrance.
An act of Congress approved on June 6, 1900 appropriated $45,000 to establish a lighthouse and fog signal to mark the southern entrance to the Buffalo Outer Harbor. Designs for the new lighthouse, fog signal, foundation and pile protection were completed by the end of the year, and plans for the keeper's dwelling were being prepared.
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for the year 1901 had stated that the plans for the light towers and fog-signal house, including foundations and pile protection work, were completed. The Lighthouse Board didn't like the idea of an enclosed lantern and requested a change to the design. Major Symons immediately revised the plans, simplifying the design, and the Lighthouse Board approved the revised plans on November 25, 1901.
After the revision to the designs, an advertisement for the construction of the Buffalo Breakwater, South Side Lighthouse, the fog signal, and two additional beacons was published in seven newspapers in four cities on January 2, 1902.
The state of New York conveyed to the United States, a strip of land at the south end of the Buffalo Harbor where the new lighthouse would sit. As this lighthouse would mark the southern entrance on the south side of the channel, it was called Buffalo Breakwater, South Side Lighthouse.
After processing the bids on February 28, 1902, the Buffalo Dredging Company had submitted the lowest bid, and was officially awarded the contract on March 20. The contract came with conditions that the work for all structures would be completed by December 31, 1902.
The entry in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1902 tells of the damage to the breakwaters that ensued following the harsh winter of 1901 to 1902:
82-83. Buffalo breakwater, southern entrance north (north and south sides) Buffalo Harbor, New York - By the act approved on June 6, 1900, an appropriation was made of $45,000 for establishing suitable light and fog-signal stations to mark the main southern entrance of the new breakwater at Buffalo, N.Y. About the time of the completion of the first set of plans for the structures authorized by this act the breakwater in the vicinity of the site where they were to be erected was so badly wrecked during two severe storms that a modification of the plans was made necessary to provide greater strength to meet extreme conditions of wind and wave action. The modified plans were completed. They provide for a fog-signal and a light-house on the south side of the channel entrance, a light-house on the north side, and rows of piles for protecting channel and harbor faces of breakwater. A contract for this part of the work, to be completed by December 31, 1902, was made, and the concrete work of foundations of the structures was completed, and the erection of one of the beacons has been begun. A site for a keeper's dwelling on the mainland is being acquired at a small cost, and plans for a double dwelling are being designed.
Although work on the harbor lights was progressing, due to many unforeseen problems, the Buffalo Dredging Company requested a contract extension, pushing out completion of the work until July 31, 1903. The Lighthouse Board denied the extension, however, due to winter's arrival, work ceased.
The deed for the site of the keeper's dwelling was acquired on August 7, 1902 from the Lackawanna Steel Company. The Lighthouse Board accepted a contract with Frank Petit of Buffalo, NY to build a double keeper's dwelling on March 14, 1903.
Work resumed in May of 1903 and by June, a detailed status was entered into the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board:
81-82. Buffalo Breakwater, south entrance, north and south sides, Buffalo Harbor, New York - Light-house and fog-signal house on south side of the channel entrance. Difficulties attending the procurement of materials, more particularly the structural iron required in the construction of the light-house and fog-signal buildings, prevented the contractors from completing their work on contract time, December 31, 1902. Therefore the contractors inclosed and anchored the light-house, removed all loose materials, and made everything secure to withstand the winter storms. Work at the site was resumed late in the spring of 1903, but owing to defective materials and workmanship slow progress was made. At the close of the fiscal year the light-house on the south side of the channel entrance was practically completed. The iron trusses for the fog-signal-house roof were delivered at Buffalo, but no work at the site was done upon the building because the timbers offered for the walls failed to pass inspection. The steel beacon on the north side of the entrance was practically completed. Much remains to be done. Title has been obtained to a lot for a site for the keeper's dwelling. Contract has been made for the erection of the dwelling by October 2, 1903 which is contract time.
The lens, pedestal, and clockwork for the south beacon are at the general light-house depot, ready for shipment and installation. The lens lantern for the steel beacon on the north side of the channel entrance is at the light-house lamp shop at Buffalo. The two 13-horse-power oil engines, air receivers, siren, and other parts comprising the fog-signal apparatus are at the Buffalo light-house depot ready for installation.
As the work wasn't completed by December 31, 1902 as required by the contract, the Lighthouse Board contacted the surety bond company on July 24, 1903. The company agreed that the bond would cover the due performance, which allowed the government to be compensated for the delays.
By August, most of the work was completed with the exception of the fog signal building and the keeper's dwelling. Several "Notice to Mariners" were advertised on August 29, 1903 to let ship captains know that the lights were to be lit and what the characteristics would be.
South Buffalo Southside Lighthouse (Coast Guard)
The Buffalo Breakwater, South Side Lighthouse and the much smaller bottle light named the wordy Buffalo Breakwater South Entrance, North Side were lighted for the first time on September 1, 1903.
Work on the fog signal building started on May 10, 1904, starting with the frame and the structural iron for the roof. By May 26, work had started on the pile and timber bulkhead. By late summer, the fog signal equipment, which consisted of 13-horsepower oil engines and compressed air to drive the siren, was installed.
On November 12, 1904, the fog signal equipment was ready for operation. Also completed at that time was 176-feet of pile and timber bulkhead which ran along the harbor line on the easterly side of the Stony Point Breakwater.
When completed, the lighthouse was a unique, round, steel, tower with extensive elegant woodwork throughout. The lantern had an uncommon diamond configuration across its glass panes, and was outfitted with a fourth-order bi-valve (clamshell) Fresnel lens, featuring alternating red and white flashes.
The new beacons were vital to the City of Buffalo and the surrounding areas at the turn of the century. Buffalo was heavily invested in lumber and grains, being the largest port for both, but from 1840s to the turn of the century, production of steel was on the rise.
The southern entrance to the Buffalo Harbor was especially important to the Lackawanna Steel Company, once the largest steel company in the world. After years of paying the high cost of bringing its goods to market through rail, the Scranton, Pennsylvania based company moved to West Seneca, NY in 1900 to have access to Great Lakes shipping and plentiful rail lines.
The move to West Seneca brought with it a host of problems, such as the massive upgrades in infrastructure, including roads as well as, water, gas, and sewer lines that the company refused to pay for. The town of West Seneca would eventually split off the area around the steel mill into a separate town, named Lackawanna.
The Lackawanna Steel Company, located just south of the Buffalo Harbor brought increased traffic into the Buffalo Harbor throughout the early 1900s to the middle of the century. Around 1950, Buffalo was at the height of its population, with 580,132 residents.
Starting in the mid-1950s, Buffalo began to decline. Several things contributed to the decline, but the biggest factor was the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1957. This allowed goods, which had previously passed through Buffalo, to bypass the city, and reach the ocean via the St. Lawrence River.
Other factors included the closing of the Bethlehem Steel Company, which acquired the Lackawanna Steel plant in 1922, high taxes, which drove much of the manufacturing industry out of New York, and suburban migration. Since 1950, Buffalo has lost population every decade.
The South Buffalo South Side Lighthouse was automated in 1962, relieving its keepers. The fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed from the tower in 1967, and replaced with a 300mm plastic optic, which was mounted on the gallery, outside the lantern. The 300mm optic was in use until 1993, when it was replaced with the modern post light, still in use today.
In 1987, the fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern of the more prominent 1833 Buffalo Main Lighthouse, at the northern end of the harbor.
The South Buffalo Southside Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 16, 2007. On July 28, 2008, through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the lighthouse was offered free of charge, to any federal, state, local agency, or non-profit entity.
Two groups had applied for ownership, however, the Buffalo Lighthouse Association was selected. The federal government transferred the deed to the lighthouse to the group in 2011.
The group has planned a three phase restoration project estimated at $825,000. Phase one involves stabilization, safety, and weatherization. Phase two involves structural issues and additional safety and weatherization work. Phase three involves final restoration work and removal passenger landing dock.
Directions: Located in South Buffalo along Fuhrmann Blvd. and Tift Street. It sits on private property along the outer breakwall. It is visible from Fuhrmann Blvd, although not very well without the use of a telephoto lens. My photo above was taken with the use of a 1000mm telephoto. A better view would be from the water.
Access: The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower and grounds closed.View more South Buffalo Southside Lighthouse pictures