Ever since a year after Buffalo was incorporated as a city in 1832, the Buffalo Lighthouse has illuminated the way for and welcomed millions of immigrants coming in through the Erie Canal.
The lighthouse’s beacon has served as a navigational tool for immigration and commerce, and its edifice is even depicted on Buffalo’s official seal.
But on June 24, the lighthouse’s beam began glowing even brighter after its smaller light was replaced with a larger one that is even more visible to mariners.
The project involved removing the fourth-order Fresnel lens, the glass beehive of concentric prisms that bend light into a narrow beam that makes it more visible. The fourth-order lens was replaced with a larger, third-order Fresnel lens, named for French physicist Augustin Fresnel, who invented it in 1822.
The smaller lens lit the tower from 1987 to 2014, but it was deteriorating and in danger of fracturing.
The old lens “way expended its useful life,” said Stasia Vogel, the Buffalo Lighthouse Association’s director of special events and tours.
The new lens is made of acrylic and brass and is modeled to be more historically accurate. Its design replicates the 1865 lens that was housed in lighthouse until 1905.
The new design projects light up to 15 miles out into Lake Erie.
In late June, the nonprofit Lighthouse Association celebrated the completion of the project with a gala dinner, festival and relighting.
“It shines and sparks, and it’s lit up every night,” Vogel said proudly.
The entire lens project cost about $120,000 and was made possible by grants from the East Hill Foundation and the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.
The old 1987 lens is now displayed in the Heritage Discovery Center on Lee Street.
For association founding members Mike and Stasia Vogel, the re-lit lighthouse is about preserving not only history, but the city’s identity.
“It’s our way of giving back to the community, which is what, we think, is the outstanding history of Buffalo,” said Stasia Vogel, also speaking on behalf of her husband.
The Vogels have spent about 30 years working to preserve the historical significance of lighthouses, not only in Buffalo, but across the country.
Now, the nonprofit is working to restore the South Buffalo Light Station, which is the site of the first Marconi radio transmission tower on the Great Lakes and houses the former Great Lakes fog signal testing station. That restoration is estimated to cost about $850,000.