Grassroots Effort Ensures Oswego Lighthouse Shines Into The Future

OSWEGO, NY – Dozens of local volunteers have put in hundreds of man hours to ensure Oswego’s lighthouse stands tall atop Lake Ontario’s water for years to come. Members of the Oswego Common Council recently heard a report of the group’s labors in 2015.

Mercedes Niess (director of the H. Lee White Maritime Museum) of the Oswego Lighthouse Committee presented the annual Oswego Lighthouse update.

Volunteers are working to get the lighthouse kitchen restored.
Volunteers are working to get the lighthouse kitchen restored.

“We lease the Oswego Lighthouse from the city of Oswego. Our mission is to conduct a restoration of the lighthouse. We are very proud to tell you of our accomplishments. A lot of the volunteers who worked on the lighthouse are sitting right behind me (here in the Council Chambers),” she said. “These are just a few of the people who put in an awful lot of time at the lighthouse, scraping, fixing, painting and repairing. They are all area residents and we are very proud of them.”

They began interior restorations, using volunteers, in 2013.

Ted Panayotoff, chair of the Oswego Lighthouse Committee, headed up a group volunteers for the quick boat trip from the museum out to Oswego’s iconic West Pierhead Lighthouse during the good weather last year.

From May 27 to October 15, they made 31 working trips to the lighthouse.

“It’s significant, the community involvement in regards to the lighthouse project. We had 32 individual volunteers help during last year. We put in close to 782 man hours of work.

Additionally, more than 150 man hours of work was performed on shore; repairing windows and things like that, he added.

He cited the SUNY Oswego track team for continuing to provide considerable support for the project.

The ceiling and walls in the bedroom were repaired in 2015.
The ceiling and walls in the bedroom were repaired in 2015.

“They’ve put in a major effort, they have sort of adopted the lighthouse as a community out-reach project. They usually get out there once a week,” he said.

They broke their string of days worked without an accident. There was one minor fall, he said.

“The other thing is we always check to make sure there have been no unauthorized entries in the building. Going back a few years ago, there were some acts of vandalism. Now, for the last couple of years, there has been no indication that anyone has gotten in.

Among the committee’s accomplishments for 2015, Panayotoff said, are:

•    Lantern – Restored brass registers, added additional handles
•    Signal Room – Sealed and painted the north wall, added posters
•    Kitchen – Refinished window frames, painted base boards, painted sink, removed about half of floor tiles
•    Radio Room – Finished all painting, refinished window frames and base boards, removed all floor tile
•    Bedroom – Restored three windows, refinished window frames, installed door, repaired ceiling, painted ceiling and walls
•    Exterior – Sealed caisson deck and parapet wall, started parapet wall repairs, started railing and stanchion repainting, painted first floor south door, restored wall joint

The group got a lot of work done, but there is much more to do, Panayotoff said.

Even the lighthouse's exterior will be getting a face lift.
Even the lighthouse’s exterior will be getting a face lift.

This year, the volunteers hope to finish the bedroom walls and remove the floor tiles; continue parapet wall repairs and paint it; begin basement restoration and repainting among other jobs.

Contractor work they hope to complete includes repair and refinish first floor hardwood floors, repaint roof and exterior walls, as well as repaint the caisson deck edge and south access doors.

They are anticipating receiving grant funds to assist with repainting the exterior walls and other tasks.

In the future, they’ll plan for making the site accessible for possible public tours.

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 break wall 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 break wall.

Six others, including the lighthouse keeper, died.

Today, the tragedy is remembered with a plaque in Oswego’s Veterans’ Park.

1 Comment

  1. I’m not sure locals appreciate what we have here. Lighthouses aren’t old school…but contemporary beacons as well as physical history…just like NYers not appreciating the Statue of Liberty (it’s always been there, never actually visited myself, only visited when family came from another part of the country), Oswegonians just take Our Light House for granted!

    But, it will almost certainly substantially improve tourism (there are actually people who ‘collect’ lighthouse visits the same way others collect ball parks, forts, even covered bridges).

    We have to be PROUD of this wonderful lake island that guards our port. IF only they put the fog horns back in, then we’d be like we were back in the 1970s when I lived a half block from the lake and saw my lighthouse…and heard it at night in the summers!

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