Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-10-24.
The name of the point comes from Captain John Tibbetts of Troy, New York, who in 1827 deeded three acres of land to the United States government for the construction of the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse, pointing the way to the St. Lawrence Seaway and ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.
Constructed in 1827 was a thirty-foot tall stone lighthouse, keeper's dwelling, kitchen, and outhouse. Like most lighthouses of that time, construction quality wasn't the best, and a report issued by Lieutenant Charles T. Platt, U.S. Navy, in 1838 provides the details:
Tibbets's-point light-house - This light, situated on the east side of the entrance of the St. Lawrence, is lighted with 10 lamps, and the same number of reflectors. The light-house is in bad order; the lantern leaks, and needs painting, a coat of Roman cement, upon the outside, is also needed: all of which may be done for one hundred dollars. The dwelling is also in a bad condition; the roof leaks extremely - a new covering to the roof is absolutely necessary, and can be done for fifteen dollars. The dwelling will also require some little painting; and the cost, including the lantern to the light-house, will be about eight dollars; making a total of one hundred and twenty three dollars. This is a very useful light, and is kept in tolerable order. The supplies furnished the contractor are without fault.
By 1852, as increasing trade with the Canadian shores brought increased traffic onto Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, guiding lights became ever more important. That year, the Lighthouse Board had requested $5,000 for "a small light on or near Carleton Head, and for thoroughly refitting or rebuilding Tibbett's Point Light."
The Lighthouse Board's request was approved by Congress and the funds were appropriated on March 3, 1853. By July 15, 1854, the lighthouse was completed and lit for the first time on August 1, 1854. The Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, on the State of Finances for 1854 had the following entry:
2. Tibbetts's Point light-house - The rebuilding of this structure was completed on the 15th of July last. The light produced by a catadioptric lens of the fourth order, illuminating 270° of the horizon, was exhibited on the 1st of August following.
The Morning Courier and New York Enquirer dated August 29, 1854 had the following notice:
The second Fresnel light on the great northern lakes has recently been erected at Tibbett's Point, Lake Ontario. The shaft is of brick work, 47 feet high, and 12½ feet in diameter at the base. The lantern is an octagon, 6½ feet in diameter, and 15 feet high, comprising seven lights of French plate glass, 40 by 30, and 3⁄8ths of an inch in thickness, clear as crystal - the eighth, or remaining side of the octagon, being an iron door.
By 1868, the roof of the keeper's dwelling was leaking, the barn and plastering of the brick belt on which the lantern rested required repair, and ventilators needed to be installed in the lantern, which continually had condensation on it.
The following year, not only were those repairs made, additional work was carried out. The dwelling and covered way were shingled, floors repaired, new windows and sash installed, cistern and barn repaired, and the tower was covered with cement and ventilated.
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1877 had recommended that a new keeper's dwelling be constructed and that the current one was "old and in bad repair." The following year, the board had again recommended that the dwelling be rebuilt, and also recommended that the tower be rebuilt as well. They requested an appropriation of $10,500 to carry the work out.
No traction was made, and in 1879, the same entry was reiterated in the report. The following year, some progress was made. An entry in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1880 stated:
553. Tibbett's Point, entrance to Saint Lawrence River, New York - This station needs entire renovation. The dwelling will be rebuilt during the present season. The tower needs repairing, and the shore near the station must have some protection. The estimated cost of the repairs is $3,426.50.
By 1881, the dwelling was rebuilt. That year, even though the tower was built in 1854, the Lighthouse Board had recommended the tower be replaced by an iron one, and estimated that the cost, including foundation, would be $5,400. The final sentence in the entry admitted that the tower could be repaired economically.
The Lighthouse Board never replaced the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse with an iron structure. Instead, in 1883, extensive repairs were carried out. The work included, the brickwork of the tower being rebuilt above the parapet wall, the wall been lined with wood, and a new lantern having a wooden deck covered with copper was installed.
In 1890, the Lighthouse Board recommended that the station be outfitted with a fog signal. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for that year had the following entry:
1025. Tibbett's Point, St. Lawrence River, New York - This light being at the entrance to St. Lawrence River it is important that its location be made known at all times and in all kinds of weather. The establishment of a steam fog-signal at this station, at an estimated cost of $4,300, is suggested, and it is recommended that an appropriation of that amount be made therefor. Minor repairs were made.
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)
No appropriation was awarded, and for the following two years, the same entry appeared in subsequent reports. Finally, the work was authorized by an act approved on February 6, 1993, but no appropriation was made. That year, however, a cistern was built.
The $4,300 was finally appropriated on March 2, 1895. Later that year, the fog signal building was constructed and outfitted with the necessary equipment. Nevertheless, to ensure reliability, a backup system was required. Bids for the duplicate fog signal were opened on June 15, 1896, however, they were all rejected as they were over the amount allotted, save one, which didn't meet the specifications.
The Lighthouse Board put the task out to bid again, and the lowest one was taken pending the modifications to align it with the specifications put forward.
By 1898, as the families of both the principal and assistant keepers were living in the small dwelling constructed in 1880, the Lighthouse Board asked for the construction of a new dwelling for the assistant keeper. The estimated amount for the building was not to surpass $3,500.
The following year, a better water source for the fog signal was required. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1899 had the following entry:
54. Tibbetts Point, St. Lawrence River, New York - To provide a nearer water supply for fog signal use, an excavation was made in the rock below water line, and covered over by a crib, bolted to the rock. A new steam-pump was purchased, and alterations in the fog-signal apparatus were made, so that either whistle can be operated with either boiler or automatic signal. Various repairs were made.
That same year, the Lighthouse Board also reiterated its request for a dwelling for the assistant keeper. In 1900, the characteristic of the fog signal was changed from a 3-second blast with a silent interval of 87 seconds to a 3-second blast followed by silent intervals of 17 and 37 seconds.
In 1901, some 175 feet of walk was installed. That same year, and for the following three years, the Lighthouse Board had repeatedly asked for the $3,500 needed to erect the assistant keeper's dwelling.
As the kerosene used for the lamps was extremely volatile, it was not recommended to store it in the tower or the keeper's dwelling. Instead, an iron oil house was erected on the grounds in 1905 to safely store the material.
That same year, the Lighthouse Board had again asked for funds to erect the assistant keeper's dwelling, however, as the cost of labor and materials went up, so did the estimate. The Lighthouse Board was now requesting $4,000 for the dwelling.
Congress finally approved an act for the project on June 30, 1906, and the structure was completed the following year. In 1927, the fog signal was changed over to an air diaphone powered by a Diesel engine. The blasts were automatically timed and could be heard for a distance of 4 to 5 miles.
Electricity was brought to the station in 1930. This upped the light from 50 to 61 candlepower. At this time its characteristic was changed from a fixed white to a flash sequence of ten seconds - a six-second flash, with a 4-second eclipse.
In 1960, the lamp was changed to a 500-watt bulb which upped the candlepower to 15,000. This made the light visible for 16 miles. To date, the fourth-order Fresnel lens still occupies the lantern in the tower.
Much to the delight of residents of Wolfe Island, the fog signal was finally discontinued in 1972, in favor of a radiobeacon. The last Coast Guard keeper left the post in 1981. Less than three years later, the American Youth Hostel took over, opening the dwellings as a hostel in 1984.
The Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Historical Society was formed by Shirley Hamblen in Mach of 1988. Their mission was to restore and preserve the lighthouse and grounds for educational and historical purposes. Today, the grounds and several buildings are open to the public, including the fog signal and a visitor's center. The tower remains closed to climbing as it is still an active aid to navigation.
Description: While in Cape Vincent, follow Broadway Street west to the intersection with Route 6 (Pleasant Valley Road). At this point, Broadway Street will turn into Tibbetts Point Road. Follow this to the end, and you will be at the lighthouse.
Access: The grounds and several buildings are open. Tower closed. The lighthouse is owned by the Town of Cape Vincent.View more Tibbetts Point Lighthouse pictures