Saturday will present a rare opportunity to tour Buffalo’s 180-year-old lighthouse – and take in the majestic views of the city and waterfront.
The tours, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be offered as part of National Lighthouse Day by the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, which has spent decades preserving one of the longest-standing lighthouses on the Great Lakes, and by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“This is a project that is both substantial and symbolic of Buffalo, not only its past but its future as well, as we see the revitalization of Buffalo’s waterfront from the inner harbor to the outer harbor and along the Buffalo River,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. “We are reminded of how fortunate we are to have a structure that is so symbolic of Buffalo’s past,” Higgins said.
The congressman helped secure $170,711 toward the lighthouse’s restoration and, with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, obtained $6.1 million to upgrade and consolidate Coast Guard facilities, while setting aside parkland and refurbishing a path to return public access to the iconic structure in late 2011.
Michael Vogel, the lighthouse keeper and a longtime volunteer and advocate, noted the date was also the anniversary of the first public works program undertaken by the federal government, when President George Washington signed the Lighthouse Service into law in 1789.
“I hope the public enjoys this facility as much as we have enjoyed working on it,” Vogel said.
The lighthouse was nearly counted out in the past. Preservationists intervened to prevent its demolition in 1961, but it continued to fall into disrepair before the Buffalo Lighthouse Association was created in 1985 to preserve it. Restoration work, including masonry repairs and stonework, is nearly complete.
Vogel said the organization hopes to expand tours, which are available on a scheduled basis, next year to include a couple of weekends a month during the summer.
But the hope of more frequent tours to the historic building, which were curtailed due to security concerns after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, is still a distant one, he said.
Vogel said the long-term goal remains the creation of a visitor center that would help anchor tours on a daily basis. But thorny land-ownership issues will have to be resolved first before a fundraising campaign to reel in $2 million to $4 million for the visitor center can begin, he said.
The 1833 lighthouse, once known as the “Chinaman’s Lighthouse,” is reachable by taking the brick path adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Station at 1 Fuhrmann Blvd., accessible by the outer harbor exit off the Skyway. Those making their way to the top of the 61-foot-tall landmark will climb 50 windy, stone steps and 17 more on two twisty metal ship ladders.