The oldest building in Buffalo really isn’t a building. It’s the Buffalo Lighthouse-the one depicted on Buffalo’s city seal-that stands at the mouth of the Buffalo River on a stone pier that dates from 1820. Built in 1833, it is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
When it was completed, a local newspaper called it the "most perfect work of its kind on this side of the ocean and perhaps the world." The walls of the tapered, unpainted octagonal limestone tower are four feet thick at the base and rise to 44 feet in height to a black cast iron lantern.
It served the city well during Buffalo’s growth period in the nineteenth century, but was eventually replaced in importance by an outer harbor breakwater light that was more visible to lake traffic. The original lighthouse was deactivated in 1914 and its lens was removed and placed in the outer harbor breakwater light. The structure served as a lookout tower to spot rumrunners during Prohibition, but it seemed to have outlived its usefulness.
By the mid-1950s, it was part of the Coast Guard base and was being used to store explosives. In 1958, the Army Corps of Engineers announced a plan to widen the river mouth and demolish the 1833 structure, but this triggered a public protest. The lighthouse was saved and restoration began in 1962. A Buffalo Lighthouse Association, formed in 1985, leases the structure from the Coast Guard. They have raised and spent approximately $300,000 on restoration and site development work.
Among their projects has been the development of a park-like entrance and a pedestrian walkway along the south bank of Buffalo River, with historical plaques telling of earlier lighthouses. It is lit at night with low-light technology to avoid confusing mariners. The lighthouse is open to the public during festivals and by appointment.
Aaron T. Heverin and Michael N. Vogel, "Buffalo Light: Guardian of the Harbor". The Web site has a full history of the lighthouse and pictures of its historic past.
Information was also drawn from David M. Rote, "The Buffalo Lighthouse," and Janice L. Habuda, "Lighthouse Beacon Will Remain Off," Buffalo News, May 8, 2006.
Photo by Chuck LaChiusa