Brewerton Rear Range Lighthouse

Hastings, New York - 1917 (1917**)

Photo of the Brewerton Rear Range Lighthouse.

History of the Brewerton Rear Range Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-07-16.

Oneida Lake, the largest body of water located entirely within the boundaries of New York State, is marked by three identical lighthouses. At the extreme western end of Oneida Lake stands the Brewerton Rear Range Lighthouse, marking the entrance to the Oneida River.

During the early 1800s, the transportation of bulk goods was limited to pack animals traveling overland as steamships and railways didn't exist. As growing grain required large tracts of land, farmers preferred the vast fields of the Midwest and the western end of New York State, which were sparsely populated.

As grain was a high-volume, low-priced commodity, it was not often cost effective to transport it great distances to the major cities along the East Coast, such as Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. As the bulk of the population lived in those locations, it became apparent that the state that succeeded in developing a low-cost, reliable route to the West would prosper economically. Therefore, many areas began developing a course of action.

Although New York State talked of forming a canal as early as 1768, nothing came to fruition. One of the earliest advocates of a canal in New York was Jesse Hawley, a flour merchant living near Geneva, New York.

Hawley's struggle to send and receive shipments over the roadways at the time landed him in debtor's prison. While serving a 20-month sentence, he published fourteen essays on the idea of a canal to link the Hudson River and Lake Erie.

Although he had no formal education or training as an engineer, he provided a detailed analysis of the problems to be solved and wrote with great eloquence and foresight the effects a canal would have on the state and the nation.

After Hawley proposed the idea for the Erie Canal in 1808, President Thomas Jefferson called it "a little short of madness" and rejected it. Hawley's essays interested DeWitt Clinton, the mayor of New York City and Joseph Ellicott, agent for the Holland Land Company in Batavia. Clinton would go on to become governor of New York in 1817, and although there was much opposition, he persuaded the legislature to approve the Erie Canal.

Construction began on July 4, 1817. Many people were so sure that the project would fail, they called it "Clinton's Ditch." But slowly it progressed. The first section of the canal was Rome to Utica, which opened in 1819. Additional sections were opened as completed. On October 26, 1825, New York State officially opened the entire 360-mile Erie Canal for business. The cost was $7.143 million.

By the late 1800s, traffic had dwindled on the Erie Canal as it wasn't large enough or deep enough to handle the tonnage necessary to keep it competitive with the railways. In 1903, the New York State legislature authorized improvements to the Erie Canal, calling it the New York State Barge Canal.

Construction of the New York State Barge Canal started in 1905 and linked the Erie Canal with the Oswego, Cayuga-Seneca and the Champlain Canals. It was completed in 1918 at the cost of $96.7 million and had a total length of 525 miles.

With the advent of diesel and steam-powered barges, tow paths and the related infrastructure were unnecessary. As the tow paths were no longer needed, the "new" barge canal could utilize the myriad rivers and lakes within the state, which the original Erie Canal avoided, and sought to link bypassed cities, such as Rochester and Syracuse. Oneida Lake was one such lake.

Oneida Lake, at twenty-two miles long and five miles wide, is the largest body of water entirely within the boundaries of New York State. With an average depth of 22-feet and a maximum depth of 55-feet, it is a shallow lake making it prone to wind and waves.

When the Erie Canal first opened, rules prohibited travel at night. Eventually, the rules were relaxed, but as the canal itself was nothing more than a hand-dug ditch, simple stake lights were utilized. But as the new barge canal incorporated larger rivers and lakes, a new system of lights was needed to provide safety.

It is unclear why establishing aids to navigation didn't fall under the auspices of the Lighthouse Board, but starting in 1907, the State Department of Canals and Waterways designed a new system of aids to navigation for use on the New York State Barge Canal.

To allow vessels 24-hour a day access to Oneida Lake, the State Department of Canals and Waterways contracted the firm of Lupfer & Remick of Buffalo, New York. Although they primarily built smokestacks for the many steel mills along Lake Erie, they agreed to erect lighthouses for the barge canal. If you look at the photo, the light primarily resembles a smokestack.

Their contract called for the construction of three concrete towers and two steel towers on Oneida Lake, one steel tower on Onondaga Lake, and various other gas-filled buoys and lamps. The cost for the project came in at just under $70,000, to be exact - $69,669.20.

For the construction of the towers on Oneida Lake, New York State purchased the land in 1916 and construction started in October for the lighthouses at Verona Beach and Brewerton. Construction of the lighthouse on Frenchman's Island would not start until the summer of 1917.

Lupfer & Remick erected each of the three towers on a large, square, concrete base. The base would provide a foundation and entrance to the tower as well as an area for fuel storage. The towers were built using pre-fabricated 18-foot concrete sections, which the contractor barged up the canal from Buffalo to its Oneida Lake.

When construction started, the contractor set an 18-foot outer section, then dropped a 4½-foot pre-fabricated interior section in from the top. Once the two parts were equal, workers placed steel cross beams and set the ladders in place. After every third interior section, a platform was set.

Each light was to be 85-feet tall and would act as a range light with the others across the lake. Both the lighthouse at Verona Beach and the lighthouse at Brewerton were completed by August 31, 1917, but some minor work and the appointment of keepers kept them from being illuminated until the spring of 1918. The lighthouse on Frenchman's Island wasn't completed until 1918.

The lights on Verona Beach and Frenchman's Island showed occulting white lights of 1,500 candlepower, while the light at Brewerton showed a fixed red light of 1,000 candlepower. When completed, each was powered by acetylene gas, but in 1927, the State Department of Canals and Waterways had the lights at Brewerton, and Verona Beach converted to commercial electricity.

Before 1920, the maintenance of the lighthouses was handed out to anyone, state employees, family, or friends. New York State overhauled the process by which it assigned jobs in 1920. The State Superintendent of Public Works placed the keeper assignments under the civil service program, requiring potential candidates to take a competitive exam.

When hired, State Department of Canals and Waterways supplied the keepers with a motorboat and required them to patrol a ten-mile section of the canal and conduct daily inspections of each aid. The keepers were also subject to scheduled reviews and regular inspections. It is unclear when the "keepers" were let go, but currently, the towers get a biannual inspection by engineers.

Although all three towers are still active today, the Brewerton Rear Range Light is no longer visible from the lake, having been blocked by the bridges for US-11 and Interstate 81. In 1949, the light on Frenchman's Island received a 20-foot addition, however, even with this addition, today, the light is barely visible over the tree tops.


  1. "New York State Canals and Lighthouses," David E. Cook, Lighthouse Digest, February 2001.
  2. "The History of the Barge Canal Lighthouses of Oneida Lake," Bill Orzell, Verona Beach Lighthouse Association flyer, Unknown.
  3. Wikipedia website.
  4. The Marine Review, Unknown, April 1917.
  5. " 'Three Sisters' Lighthouses celebrate 100 years of watching over Oneida Lake," Staff, The Palladium-Times, June 13, 2017.
  6. Barge Canal Bulletin, State of New York, January 1916.

Directions: From I-81, take exit 31 (Bartell Road) west to Brewerton Road (US-11). Take Brewerton Road north to Route 37. Turn left onto Route 37. Lighthouse Park will be up a short distance on your left.

Access: The lighthouse is owned by New York State Canal Corporation. Grounds open. Tower closed.

View more Brewerton Rear Range Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 85.00'
Focal Plane: 92'
Active Aid to Navigation: Deactivated (A)
*Latitude: 43.24116 N
*Longitude: -76.14463 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.