There have been numerous lights marking the entrance to
Buffalo Harbor since 1818. The area has been marked by nine
lights and a lightship! Congress set aside funding for a
lighthouse in 1805, but the construction was delayed by local
politics, and then by the War of 1812, when the town was
burned by the British.
The first tower was finally built in
1818 - a thirty-foot stone tower. The original light was
criticized by some as being too weak to be distinguished
through the smoke of the woodburning stoves of the growing
town. The Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, made Buffalo one
of the busiest ports in the world. A new lighthouse was
required. The present Buffalo Main Light replaced the old
one in 1833. The eighty-foot octagonal stone tower was
operational until 1914.
In 1872, the original Buffalo Breakwater Light was
constructed at the end of a 4,000 foot breakwater in the
harbor. The large house-like structure contained a
fourth-order Fresnel lens. This light was a target for
ships, which rammed the tower in 1899, 1900, 1909, and 1910.
The Breakwater Light was rebuilt in 1914.
In 1903, the two Buffalo Bottle Lights -
white, cast-iron towers, were installed at the ends of
additional breakwaters. The bottle lights would remain in
operation until 1985. One was moved to a maritime museum at
the Dunkirk Lighthouse,
and the other was moved near the Buffalo Main Light. The
South Buffalo Light was also established in 1903, and
automated in 1935. Lightvessel No. 82 marked the entrance of
Buffalo Harbor from 1912 to 1913. The lightship was lost
with all hands to a storm in 1913, but was subsequently
raised, and served elsewhere in the Great Lakes for another
In 1958, the freighter Frontenac rammed the
Breakwater Light with such force that the lighthouse was
knocked backward 20 feet and tilted by 15 degrees. A new
breakwater light - a white, seventy-one foot tower - was
constructed in 1961, and the "leaning lighthouse" of Buffalo
was torn down.
Several additional markers have lit the area over time.
The Black Rock Range Lights (1853-1870) marked the south entrance of
the Niagara River. The short rectangular pier light housed
a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
The Horseshoe Reef Light of 1856 marked a dangerous point outside
Buffalo Harbor. The light was in Canadian waters, and
required cooperation of the American, Canadian, and British
In 1920, a water intake with a light was
constructed nearby. With the construction of the Buffalo
Intake Crib Light and a new, protected channel to the harbor,
the Horseshoe Reef Light was abandoned. Today, little more
than a skeleton remains at the site.
In the 1960's, Buffalo Main Light was to be demolished
by the Army Corps of Engineers. Public protest saved the light.
In 1985, the Buffalo Lighthouse Association was formed,
and worked to restore to the light. A Fresnel lens was re-installed.
Today the tower is lit for show only.
In 2005, numerous repairs were made to the lighthouse -
althought further funding was needed for additional work.
Buffalo Main is the oldest building in Buffalo still standing on
its original site.
A Traveler's Guide to 100 Eastern Great Lakes Lighthouses, Penrose, pp. 35, 38
Lighthouses of the Seaway Trail (video)
Nineteenth Century Lights, Clifford pp. 100-101
Great Lakes Lighthouses - American and Canadian, Oleszewski, pp. 52-54
Eastern Great Lakes Lighthouses - Ontario, Erie, and Huron, Roberts, Jones p. 28
The Keeper's Log Fall 2005.