Oak Orchard (Replica) Lighthouse

Point Breeze, New York - 2010 (1871**)

 
Photo of the Oak Orchard (Replica) Lighthouse.
 
 
   

History of the Oak Orchard (Replica) Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-11-30.

Harbors of refuge along the southern shore of Lake Ontario were few and far between in the early 1830s. Prior to the erection of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse in Point Breeze, there were few, if any, between the mouths of the Niagara and Genesee Rivers, a span of nearly 85 miles.

Residents petitioned for general harbor improvements in 1836. Representatives Graham H. Chapin and George W. Lay brought them before the House and presented them for consideration on February 29, 1836.

The requests were successful. On July 2 that year, $5,000 was appropriated for improvements, setting the Army Corps. of Engineers in motion. Before the close of the year, construction of the west breakwater was underway.

The following year, an additional appropriation of $5,000 was released, allowing the Army Corps. of Engineers to start on the west channel-pier and the east breakwater. In 1838, another $5,000 appropriation allowed the east breakwater to be completed, and both channel-piers to be extended an additional 300 feet into the lake.

The hope was that with the construction of the piers, that the current would naturally clear the channel, although it wasn't expected until the piers were at their full 1,160-foot length.

That year, Lieutenant Charles T. Platt, U.S. Navy, inspected many of the lighthouses of the Tenth Lighthouse District, which spanned from the St. Lawrence River to Ohio. While carrying out the inspections, locations for new lighthouses were also scouted.

He entered the following in his report:

Oak-orchard - At this point the public improvements are progressing rapidly; three hundred feet of the piers, on either side, are finished, or nearly so. It is contemplated extending them to a further distance of nine hundred feet, making the total of each pier twelve hundred feet. It is presumed, when these piers are finished, that the current from the creek will clear a channel of sufficient depth, without resorting to other means. If, however, dredging should be found necessary, that can easily be accomplished, in a single season, after the piers are in proper condition.

This must become a port of vast importance for vessels in foul weather, the harbor being spacious, with a depth of from 14 to 20 feet of water for two miles up the creek.

When these piers are in a condition to admit of the structure of a beacon-light, it will be both judicious and proper to submit a plan and estimate for the same; until then, there will be no possibility of entering the harbor.

Appropriations, although urged, ceased for many years. On June 11, 1844, an appropriation of $5,000 was released, allowing work on the harbor to continue. The Army Corps. of Engineers expended the funds by extending the west pier to 510 feet and the east pier to 725 feet. The following year, the channel was scoured to allow vessels drawing five feet of water to enter to enter, although northeast gales soon filled it in, reducing it by a foot.

River and harbor improvements were suspended in 1846, and were resumed two years later. Still, there were no appropriations for Oak Orchard Harbor until 1852 when $10,500 was released. By then, portions of the west pier needed rebuilding, which used up most of the funds. The money that was left went to extend the west pier an additional 290 feet.

Again, appropriations for the Oak Orchard Harbor ceased for many years, until 1867, when an $87,000 appropriation was released. By then, due to poor condition, it was proposed to rebuild the piers, extend them out to a depth of 12 feet, and dredge a channel between them.

Contracts were signed, some material was delivered, but issues with the contractor led to his dismissal. New contracts were quickly signed, and the work ensued. By 1870, the west pier was at 955 feet, the east pier was at 763 feet, and a large amount of dredging work was completed.

An appropriation on July 11 kept the harbor work funded for that year, and the following year, an additional appropriation of $10,000 was made. During 1871, the west pier was extended to 1,135 feet and the east pier to 915 feet, and both were deemed "long enough."

While construction of the piers was ongoing during 1870 and 1871, the Lighthouse Board appropriated $20,000 on July 15, 1870 for "building a light-house at or near the mouth of the Oak Orchard Creek, on the southern shore Lake Ontario, New York."

1871 Oak Orchard Lighthouse photo courtesy US Coast Guard1871 Oak Orchard Lighthouse (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The lighthouse was primarily designed to be a lake coast light, guiding mariners on the unlit stretch of coastline between the Niagara and Genesee Rivers. Its secondary purpose was to mark the approach to Oak Orchard Creek, if practicable.

After a careful examination of the harbor, it was deemed best to mark the approach to the harbor with a frame beacon on the west pier. To supply a dwelling for the keeper, one-half acre of land near the mouth of the west bank of the creek was purchased.

The wooden frame beacon, erected at the end of the west pier, was finished on June 10, 1871. The square pyramidal tower, constructed of wood, stood just over 32 feet tall, and was topped off with an iron lantern. Inside the tower, the first floor was fitted with a locker, a closet with hooks and shelves, and a work table. The second floor, accessed via a wooden ship's ladder, housed two lockers and a bunk.

A ladder from the second floor led to the lantern, which inside, sat a fourth-order Fresnel lens. On the night of June 17, it was lighted for the first time, displaying a fixed white light visible for nine miles. A single-story frame keeper's dwelling was finished on June 22, 1871, and the keeper was allowed to move in.

To reach the pier, the keeper had to walk 13 of a mile, and then another 15 of a mile down the pier to the lighthouse. Occasionally, the walk along the pier could be dangerous, especially during heavy seas, when waves would wash across it.

To relieve some of the danger, the Lighthouse Board erected an 800' elevated walkway in the spring of 1873. In 1880, the catwalk was extended 221 feet, connecting it to shore. This ensured that the keeper could safely walk the entire length of the pier. That same year, the beacon was repaired and the interior of the dwelling was painted.

Several repairs were carried out in 1885. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board had the following entry:

687. Oak Orchard, entrance to Oak Orchard Harbor, Lake Ontario, New York - The oak timber foundation of the beacon was renewed, and the lower parts of the corner posts of the beacon were spliced with new material. The walk leading shoreward, 1,003 feet long, was entirely rebuilt. The floor and foundation of the main porch of the keeper's dwelling was renewed, and other minor repairs were made.

Over the following years, repairs to the station were carried out. In 1890, the two chimneys of the dwelling were rebuilt from the roof up, the roof over the dining room and kitchen was reshingled, and a barn was erected. Some five years later, the keeper's dwelling was thoroughly repaired and the year after that, the old wooden plank walks from the porches were replaced with concrete.

The well, installed in 1884, was deepened by 20 feet in 1898. To easily get the water, the keeper was furnished with a new pump that year. In 1904, a square iron oil house was erected, and 473 square feet of cement walks were laid.

In 1905, the lens was replaced. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for that year had the following entry:

71. Oak Orchard, entrance to Oak Orchard Harbor, Lake Ontario, New York - A five-day lens lantern was installed in place of the fourth-order lens. Minor repairs were made.

As commerce in the harbor steadily declined over the years, the U.S. Government stopped maintaining the harbor in 1905. This decline was noted as early as 1896 in a report by Major W. S. Staton of the Army Corps. Of Engineers:

"There is no apparent reason to expect any material increase in the local traffic unless a company should build a projected railroad from the Pennsylvania coal regions to Oak Orchard Harbor."

The railway project never materialized and on May 1, 1914, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was permanently discontinued. Later that year, a powerful storm washed a large hole through the west pier. On December 23, 1916, another powerful storm swept away the rest of the pier, taking the lighthouse with it.

Since the closing of the lighthouse in 1914, the keeper's dwelling was rented out. On July 2, 1917, the Lighthouse Service placed the keeper's dwelling, outbuildings, and the one-half acre of land up for auction via sealed bid. On July 16 that year, the property was sold.

In 2003, the Oak Orchard Harbor Light Committee was formed out of the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce. Their goal of rebuilding the lost lighthouse was to increase tourism to the area.

After jumping through several hoops, including becoming a chartered museum under the NYS Education Department and getting approval to erect the replica lighthouse on state-owned land, the group hired Chatfield Engineers.

After raising funds and receiving an EPF matching grant from the New York State Parks in 2009, the group requested bids to construct the lighthouse. After dealing with some setbacks, including bids that were over the budget, the group persevered.

The services of Simbari Designs of Rochester were employed to recreate the historic structure from a 1909 survey and construction of the lighthouse was carried out by Nathaniel General Contractors, also of Rochester.

After starting the construction process in February of 2010, the lighthouse was finally completed and dedicated on June 26, 2010. In December of that year, the lighthouse was officially added to the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.

The Memorial Walkway, reminiscent of the circle of life, was installed in the spring of 2012. The walkway was made up of more than 5,000 bricks, with nearly 500 of them having been personalized.

Future plans call for a museum to be constructed on the site and the return of the original oil house. The oil house, owned by the Cobblestone Museum, will be permanently loaned to the Oak Orchard Museum, and returned to the property.

To date, Dick Anderson, President of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Museum, states that a ramp leading to the lighthouse has been built, the entire lighthouse has been recoated with linseed oil to match the original colors, and a Children's Peace garden has been created near the lighthouse ramp.

The original keeper's dwelling, sold in 1917, still stands today. It is a private residence near the intersection of Archbald Road and Oak Orchard on the Lake.

Reference:

  1. Annual Report of the Light House Board, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
  2. Various Government Documents, Federal & State Governments, Various dates.
  3. "To Sell Lighthouse Property," Staff, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 3, 1917.
  4. "Lost Lighthouse Stands Again," Bill Edwards, Lighthouse Digest, July 2010.
  5. "Oak Orchard Lighthouse Gone," Staff, The Daily News, December 29, 1916.
  6. "Rebuilding the Past," Bill Edwards, Lighthouse Digest, January/February 2005.

Directions: From the Lake Ontario State Parkway, exit at Route 98. Follow Route 98 north to Point Breeze Maritime Park. More information is available at their website. http://www.oakorchardlighthouse.org

Access: The lighthouse is owned by New York State and is maintained by the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Museum. The grounds are open. The tower is open in season. The keeper's dwelling is private property. Please respect this and do not trespass.

View more Oak Orchard (Replica) Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 32.00'
Focal Plane: Unknown
Active Aid to Navigation: Deactivated (1905)
*Latitude: 43.372 N
*Longitude: -78.191 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.

 


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.