OSWEGO, NY – Day by day, the iconic Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse is coming back to life.
At Monday’s Common Council meeting, Mercedes Niess updated councilors on the progress made last year by the lighthouse restoration committee and a cadre of volunteers.
After nearly 2,200 volunteer hours, the Port City landmark is well on the way to restoration.
The first-ever public tours of the lighthouse were offered in 2016, Niess said.
“The H. Lee White Maritime Museum was successful in opening the lighthouse. More than 400 total visitors (285 paid) stepped inside the lighthouse,” she said. “It was open to the public for 20 days. We stated during Harborfest weekend.”
Visitors included a couple visiting from England.
“We are very fortunate, because we couldn’t do this without the volunteers” she told the council, who applauded the several volunteers present in the audience.
The group promotes the lighthouse as a regional destination. There are partnering with Oswego Expeditions, among others, this year to further publicize the lighthouse, she added.
They will offer the Lighthouse (CNY) Challenge again this year as well from August 4 to 6. The event highlights several regional lighthouses.
There will be some new exhibits this year.
The museum will be “reinterpreting our lighthouse history, which actually consists of four lighthouses, from 1822 to today,” Niess pointed out. “We continually promote not only locally but also throughout Central New York and New York State.”
Courtesy of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, the lighthouse will have a National Register plaque to put up at the site, which is a National Register of Historic Places site.
“We are a small organization and can’t do what we do without continuing to partner and reach out. We’ll have our second official Waterfront Open House on May 20,” she said. “It will kick off the season. We do hope, that weather permitting, there will be some kayaking available, dragon boat demonstrations, and hopefully a ride to the lighthouse.”
The education piece will be boating safety and having fun on the water, she added.
Besides partnerships with the city, Niess said, they are also working with area captains to make the lighthouse more accessible.
Assemblyman Will Barclay earmarked $100,000 for the lighthouse restoration and that paperwork is moving forward, Niess said.
“That will help with the site, as well as with the painting of the exterior. Quite a bit of repair needs to be done,” she said. “We’ll continue the lighthouse boat tours. They’ll officially start in June. There will be a preseason event in May.”
“The H. Lee White Maritime Museum is committed to investing our time, our resources, funds and our volunteer hours,” Niess continued. “We’ll manage volunteers for the tours. And, beyond that there will be maintenance. We’ll continue to provide our staff for research, education and oversight. We will continue to work closely with the city.”
They also continue to utilize their extensive network of professional relationships throughout the state.
“We hope that you will continue to believe in us and well continue to protect Oswego’s landmark for many years,” she told the councilors.
The city received the title to the 83-year-old West Pierhead Lighthouse in May of 2009.
On July 14, (then) Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ursula W. Walther, of the US Coast Guard station, presented (then) Mayor Randy Bateman with the key to the historic landmark. After several years of waiting, city officials took ownership of the lighthouse.
Highlighting the history
Built in 1934, the West Pierhead light is the last of four Oswego Harbor lighthouses dating back to 1822.
The first light stood near Fort Ontario on the east side of the Oswego River.
That lighthouse was sold and scrapped after a new lighthouse was built on the river’s west side in 1836.
In the 1880s, a new harbor breakwall was constructed and a lighthouse was built on it.
That one was removed in the 1930s to make room for the current lighthouse.
Tragedy struck the lighthouse on Dec. 4, 1942, when six Coast Guardsmen died during a crew change operation.
A severe storm stranded one lighthouse keeper for three days.
A relief crew managed to make it to the lighthouse.
Shortly before their boat was to head back to Oswego’s Coast Guard station it broke loose and eight guardsmen, including the man they were rescuing, were swept into the harbor’s cold water.
Only two men managed to make their way back to the breakwall.
Six others, including the lighthouse keeper, died.
Today, the tragedy is remembered with a plaque in Oswego’s Veterans’ Park.