The Great Lakes Seaway Trail shoreline is home to a fascinating collection of 28 historic lighthouses and 2 modern replicas. America’s history was shaped by the role these lights played as active beacons. In fact, some are still at work guiding ships traveling Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. The lights are an important part of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail region’s maritime heritage and serve as prized local landmarks.
The waterways which the Great Lakes Seaway Trail follows have long served as important transportation routes for the continent. Native Americans fished, hunted, and traveled along these waterways. Explorers investigated these waterways for a route to the Orient. Early traders and merchants used these waterways for commerce. The British and French fought for control of these waterways and, in turn, control of the continent. A young American nation battled with Great Britain over control of these waterways and its rights as a sovereign nation.
In the early history of the United States, Lakes Erie and Ontario quickly became prime transportation routes. The building of lighthouses along the present-day Great Lakes Seaway Trail route went hand-in-hand with our nation’s economic growth. By the early 19th century, the Great Lakes had become the single most important transportation system in the country.
Lighthouses were constructed to either mark the entry to a river or harbor, or to warn mariners of dangerous points, shoals, or islands. The region’s first 11 lights were built at ports of entry such as Buffalo and Charlotte (Rochester), at the mouths of major rivers (Old Fort Niagara on the Niagara and Tibbetts Point on the St. Lawrence), or at important harbors like Oswego and Sodus Bay. When these and other strategic lights were completed, the Lighthouse Service turned to other more remote and perilous locations such as Braddock Point and Thirty Mile Point where lives and fortunes had been lost in shipwrecks over the years.
The first light to shine on the Great Lakes was at the mouth of the Niagara River where it flows into Lake Ontario. Erected atop the “Castle” at Fort Niagara around 1781, this light was built in response to the increase in military and commercial traffic precipitated by the Revolutionary War. Nearly 40 years passed before the next light would appear on the Great Lakes, due at least partially to the country’s focus on fighting the British in the War of 1812. In 1818, two more lighthouses were constructed – one in Erie, PA and another in Buffalo, NY. By the turn of the 20th century, more than 20 lighthouses were protecting vessels navigating the waterways adjacent to the present-day Great Lakes Seaway Trail route.
Today, travelers can view 30 lighthouses along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail – 28 historic lights and two modern replicas. Enjoy the rich history, varied architecture, and panoramic vistas from these unique structures as you travel along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. While some of these lights are now privately owned and a few are difficult to see from shore, many others are open to the public and offer the opportunity to climb the light tower and experience the spectacular views that the lighthouse keepers of yesteryear would have seen.
Click below for a large map showing the location of all the lighthouses along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail:
The lighthouses below are organized in geographic order, from west to east, along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.
Land Lighthouse – Erie, PA
This 49-foot lighthouse was originally built in 1818 and was the first lighthouse built by the U.S. Government on the Great Lakes. The tower has since been replaced twice. The current structure was built in 1867 and the light operated until 1899. The lighthouse grounds are accessible to visitors.
Coordinates: 42°08’39.1″N 80°3’43.5″W
Presque Isle North Pier Light – Erie, PA
This 34-foot lighthouse was originally constructed as a wooden tower in 1828, but that light was swept away by a schooner in 1857. The current lighthouse was forged in France and assembled on site in Erie in 1858. It was moved in 1880 and again in 1940. Visitors can walk the pier to view the lighthouse up close.
Coordinates: 42°09’24.12″N 80°04’14.16″W/a>
Presque Isle Light Station – Erie, PA
This lighthouse was first lit in July 1873. It originally stood 40 feet tall before the tower was raised to its current height of 63 feet in 1896. The lighthouse can be seen from the road or by taking a short walk around the lighthouse to the beach for the best views.
Coordinates: 42°9’56.8″N 80°6’55.5″W
Barcelona Lighthouse – Westfield, NY
This 40-foot lighthouse was constructed in 1829. It was the first public building in the United States to be illuminated by natural gas. The lighthouse can be viewed from a public park at Barcelona Harbor.
Coordinates: 42°20’27″N 79°35’42″W
Historic Dunkirk Lighthouse – Dunkirk, NY
The present lighthouse complex, constructed in 1875, replaced an earlier light commissioned in 1826. The lighthouse was automated in 1960 and is still operational. The lighthouse is open for tours and also includes a museum and gift shop.
Buffalo Main Lighthouse – Buffalo, NY
The first Buffalo lighthouse was lighted in 1818, making it one of the initial lighthouses on the Great Lakes. It was replaced in 1833 with a new light that rested on top of a 68-foot, octagonal tower erected at the end of a 1,400 foot pier. Visitors can walk to the lighthouse grounds and view informative plaques, maps, and historic timelines.
Coordinates: 42° 52′ 36″N 78° 53′ 19″W
Other area lights include Buffalo Intake Crib Light, Grand Island Lighthouse, North Breakwater South End Light, Horseshoe Reef Light, & South Buffalo South Side Light
Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse – Youngstown, NY
The first Fort Niagara Light was established on the roof of the Fort in 1781. This light was the earliest unofficial lighthouse on the Great Lakes. The existing stone light went into service in 1872. The lighthouse grounds are accessible to visitors.
Olcott Lighthouse – Olcott, NY
The original Olcott Light was built in 1873 on a pier at Eighteen Mile Creek. By the 1930s the light was no longer needed and was moved to a local yacht club. It resided there until the early 1960s when it was destroyed. In 2003, a replica was built from old photographs. The grounds are accessible to visitors.
Coordinates: 43°20’20″N 78°42’54″W
Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse – Golden Hill State Park, NY
This lighthouse, erected in 1875, derives its name from its location 30 miles east of the Niagara River. The light was dismantled and the lighthouse closed in 1958, though it returned to service in 1997. Today, the lighthouse is open for tours and guests can even stay overnight in the assistant keeper’s quarters.
Oak Orchard Harbor Lighthouse-Kent, NY
The original lighthouse stood on the west side of the Oak Orchard River between 1871 and 1916. The square pyramidal lighthouse stood over 32 feet tall, was constructed of wood, and the lantern of iron. Using a detailed survey performed in 1909, a full-scale historically accurate replica was constructed in 2010 and now sits in the Orleans County Marine Park. The grounds are accessible to visitors.
Braddock Point Lighthouse – Hilton, NY
Completed in 1896, the complex included the Victorian-style keeper’s house and the 110-foot, red brick, octagonal tower. The light was extinguished in 1954 and the upper two-thirds of the tower was removed due to extensive structural damage. The house has since been restored to its original beauty and the tower rebuilt. The U.S. Coast Guard relit the light in 1996. Today, the lighthouse is privately owned and operated as a bed and breakfast.
Charlotte Genesee Lighthouse – Rochester, NY
This lighthouse, with its 40-foot tower, was built in 1822. In 1881, the light was removed from service and the lantern transferred to a pier lighthouse. For 100 years the tower was abandoned until 1982 when it was restored and began operation as a museum. The lighthouse is open for tours and also includes a museum and gift shop.
Old Sodus Lighthouse – Sodus Point, NY
The original lighthouse was constructed in 1825. The existing lighthouse was built in 1870 when the need for extensive repairs to the original one was recognized. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1901. The lighthouse is open for tours and also includes a museum and gift shop.
Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse – Oswego, NY
This lighthouse was built in 1934 and replaced a light that stood on the west pier and had been built in 1836 (that light in turn was a replacement for the first lighthouse in Oswego that was built in 1822 on the grounds of Fort Ontario). The 57-foot lighthouse is now solar powered. The lighthouse is not accessible to the public, but it can be viewed from many locations along the Oswego Harbor.
Coordinates: 43°28’24″N 76°31’1″W
Selkirk Lighthouse – Port Ontario, NY
Constructed in 1838, this lighthouse is one of only four in the United States that retains its original birdcage design. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1858 until its reactivation in 1989 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located at the convergence of Lake Ontario and the Salmon River, the lighthouse has easily accessible grounds, gift selections in the marina store and is available for overnight accommodations.
Stony Point Lighthouse – Henderson Harbor, NY
Erected in 1869, this lighthouse replaced an 1830 lighthouse whose foundation still remains. This 50-foot tall lighthouse was removed from service in 1945. Recent renovations included repointing and repainting the tower. The lighthouse can be seen from the road, but is on private property and not accessible to the public.
Coordinates: 43°50’22″N 76°17’54″W
Galloo Island Lighthouse – Off Henderson Harbor, NY
This lighthouse was first established in 1820, and the present 55-foot lighthouse was built in 1867. The lighthouse is on private property with no public access. It can best be seen by boat.
Coordinates: 43°53’18″N 76°26’42″W
Horse Island Lighthouse – Sackets Harbor, NY
This lighthouse was erected in 1870 on Horse Island, approximately 300 yards from the mainland. The island was used by the British as a staging area before the Battle of Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812. The lighthouse is on private property with no public access. There are limited views of the lighthouse from the road – viewing is best in the winter when no leaves are on the trees.
Coordinates: 43°56’35″N 76°08’40″W
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse – Cape Vincent, NY
Marking the entrance to the St. Lawrence River, a lighthouse was first constructed in this location in 1827. In 1854, the present 69-foot tower was constructed. The lighthouse is open for tours and also includes a museum and gift shop. Visitors can stay overnight at the hostel.
East Charity Shoal Lighthouse – Off Cape Vincent, NY
This lighthouse, originally located in the waters off the Lake Erie shore near Vermilion, OH, was rebuilt in its current location in 1929. The light still operates as a reference point for ships navigating the St. Lawrence Seaway channel. There is no public access and the lighthouse can be viewed by boat or, on a clear day, with a telescope from Tibbetts Point.
Coordinates: 44°02’12″N 76°28’54″W
Rock Island Lighthouse – Off Fisher’s Landing, NY
Constructed in 1882, the current lighthouse replaced the combination lighthouse/ keeper’s house of 1847. Along with the tower, numerous buildings are still standing on the island including the smokehouse, generator house, boathouse, carpenter’s shop, and the keeper’s house. The island is accessible by boat only (shuttles available), and it is open to the public. Good views of the light can also be seen from Wellesley Island via the Thousand Islands Bridge.
Coordinates: 44°16’50″N 76°1’1″W
Sunken Rock Lighthouse – Off Alexandria Bay, NY
This lighthouse was built in 1847 and refitted in 1855. It marks the east entrance to the narrows between Wellesley Island and the U.S. mainland. The lighthouse is located on an island and is not open to the public. It can be seen from shore in Alexandria Bay.
Coordinates: 44°20’44″N 75°54’55″W
Sisters Island Lighthouse – Off Chippewa Bay, NY
The lighthouse was constructed circa 1870 and is attached to the rear of the two and a half story keeper’s house. The tower rises about 60 feet. There is no public access and the lighthouse can only be viewed by boat.
Coordinates: 44°24’51.7″N 75°50’38.9″W
Crossover Island Lighthouse – Off Chippewa Bay, NY
This lighthouse was constructed in 1848 and is named for the point where ships crossed between the American and the Canadian channels in the St. Lawrence River. It was rebuilt in 1882 and deactivated in 1941. There is no public access, but the lighthouse can be seen from the mainland at the Route 12 scenic overlook east of Chippewa Bay.
Coordinates: 44°29’49″N 75°46’42″W
Ogdensburg Harbor Lighthouse – Ogdensburg, NY
This 65-foot lighthouse was erected in 1900 at the confluence of the Oswegatchie and St. Lawrence Rivers. It replaced the original lighthouse that was built in 1834 and refitted in 1870. The lighthouse is privately owned and not accessible to the public. It can be viewed from Riverside Ave. in Ogdensburg.
Coordinates: 44°41’52″N 75°30’12″W
More Information on Lighthouses
For more information on lighthouses along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail shoreline please see the following websites courtesy of US Lighthouses:
Stony Point Lighthouse
East Charity Shoal Lighthouse
Rock Island Lighthouse
Sunken Rock Lighthouse
Ogdensburg Harbor Lighthouse
Crossover Island Lighthouse
Sisters Island Lighthouse