How would you like to have the task of rebuilding an exact replica, to scale, of a lighthouse from 130 years ago, with no existing plans or blueprints from the original, having only a handful of old photographs to work with?
That was Al Benton’s dream that became a reality in the summer of 2003.
With those old photos, a committee of little over a dozen people, known as the Olcott Lighthouse Society, had new plans and blueprints drawn up. Private donations were collected totaling $6,000 and the Olcott, New York, lighthouse began to take shape last spring.
Mr. Benton states that the 27-foot tall light was made of white pine in a “Dutch lap” design of overlapping boards. Benton says that it is a piece of local history that needed to be preserved, and that is why they were making it as authentic as possible.
The original Olcott Light guided ships on Lake Ontario from 1873 to 1963, with a move in towards the shoreline from the end of the pier around 1930. According to Niagara County records, the following is how the Hamlet was described in 1897:
“The village of Olcott (formerly Kempville) is pleasantly situated at the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek on the lake shore. No more attractive site could be found for a village than this. It has one of the best harbors on the lake, is a port of entry, with a customs house. Two extensive piers, one on either side of the mouth of the creek, have been built out into the lake, by the United States Government, to a distance of over 800 feet, providing safe harbor facilities for larger vessels. This work was done between 1870 and 1877, at a cost of about $200,000. On the outer end of the present west pier is situated the government lighthouse, the light in which is fifty feet from the water. A line of steamers running to various lake ports stops at this place.”
According to the Niagara County Historical Society, in the late 1800s, Olcott was a port of entry and many boats, especially from Canada, were frequent visitors. Grain was taken in and later loaded and shipped to Rochester and Oswego. A government customs inspector was stationed at Olcott along with the lighthouse keeper. R.M. Matthews was keeper of the lighthouse for many years.
Olcott is located roughly midway between Thirty Mile Point lighthouse and Fort Niagara lighthouse, on Route 18, along New York State’s Seaway Trail.
It is said that in the early 1900s, Olcott was known for its amusement rides, including three carousels. The town is going through a renaissance with the recent renovation of a circa 1928 carousel that returned after 40 years.
While the Olcott Lighthouse Society is putting the final touches on the exterior of the structure and surrounding landscaping, the task now at hand is to illuminate the lantern (not as an official navigation light) and to collect old photos and artifacts related to the light, to be displayed inside as a small museum. A formal dedication of the rebuilt lighthouse is planned for sometime this summer.
This story appeared in the
April 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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