Jul 17, 2017

Touring the Oswego Lighthouse

The Oswego Lighthouse, the icon of the city of Oswego, has
basically been off limits to visitors until now.  The break wall that leads to the lighthouse is too dangerous to negotiate and, most likely, if reached by private boat the lighthouse will be closed.  H. Lee White Maritime Museum now runs a tourist boat to the lighthouse twice a week for a mere $20 and includes admission to the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.   

John and I have been to the museum several times but each time is different.  They have reconfigured the entrance. We had never seen the telescope that was at one time on the massive Sheppard Estate in New Haven, NY. It is now on display at the museum.  I like the display of the captain’s quarters and the ship’s chandlery which was basically a ship’s store.  The original
Oswego Chandlery (circa 1829) is still standing. It is where Coleman’s Restaurant used to be. There are also three vessels of interest: The USAT LT-5, a tug that has been designated as a National Historic Landmark; Derrick Boat 8, which was used to maintain the canals; and, the Eleanor D, a commercial fishing vessel. 

We boarded a pontoon boat where Oswego Expeditions has their kayaks. The boat ride gave me another perspective of the harbor. When we arrived at the lighthouse volunteer guides were waiting for us and were very informative. The lighthouse replaced an existing lighthouse that was closer to the shore.  The current lighthouse was built as part of an extensive harbor
enlargement project that involved the construction of storage elevators by the New York State Barge Canal, and new breakwaters with the West Pierhead lighthouse at the new entrance to the harbor. The Lighthouse is at the end of the stone breakwater and one-half mile out into Lake Ontario. It required special engineering to withstand the high winds and destructive ice common to the Lake.  The walls and window shutters are metal as evidenced by the rivets. The lighthouse is still active but is no longer manned.  The father of one of the guides was one of the lighthouse keepers. 

One level has the living quarters with a kitchen, bed room, and radio room. Before there was ship-to-shore communication the lighthouse keeper would blow the fog horn and check the time it took for a responding sound.  Based on the time and the distance sound travels he would know how far away the vessel was. Two men were on duty at the lighthouse, they would stay for two days and then return to shore for one day off. They were given free housing in the city.  I thought it might be a bit boring but the guide assured me that they had a lot of work to do maintaining the lighthouse. 

On another floor, the tower signal room, there is information about the fog horn signals and the light plus a stairway to the very top where the view is spectacular.  I was told that it was about one mile from the lighthouse to the bridge.  The steeple of St. Mary’s church is clearly visible. I was surprised at how the grassy earthworks camouflage Fort Ontario.

The Oswego Lighthouse is not handicap accessible; however, the stairs are easy to negotiate. Put an  Oswego Lighthouse tour on your summer to-do list. The H. Lee White Museum offers tours on Friday and Saturdays.