“We’re very pleased that we were able to acquire it for the city, it’s the welcoming beacon from the city to everybody that visits from the water.” - Oswego (New York) Mayor Randy Bateman.
It only took about two years, eleven months, and three weeks from the time the General Services Administration announced that the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse was available (see September, 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest, “The Oswego Lighthouse in 'In Play”), to the day the deed was recorded in city hall.
The primary goals of Oswego are to protect and stabilize the structure and provide a program of historical interpretation on the architectural and maritime significance of the lighthouse. The city will partner with the H. Lee White Marine Museum, where the original 1880s fourth-order Fresnel lens is on display.
Restoring the lighthouse will be no small undertaking. Estimates for immediate repairs could exceed $500,000, and to complete the renovation could top $2 million. Mayor Bateman addressed the funding question: “Right now we have some grant funds ($225,000) . . . First thing, we have to do some mitigation as far as the lead paint and asbestos floor tiles . . . I went out there for a tour last summer (2008) and I can tell you that the paint is literally just falling right off the wall in sheets, the floor tiles are peeling up a little bit, but the varnish that was on the door frame casings and the doors themselves look like it was just done a few months ago, that’s held up pretty well.”
There is also a bird problem. “A lot of dead birds in there, a lot of cleaning up yet to do,” says Mayor Bateman. “There are a couple of gaps in the old steel doors that are partially corroded. I’m imagining that is how they are getting in that way. Of course, one bird gets in and lays eggs and pretty soon they’re everywhere.”
Access to the lighthouse is a problem. There is no public access to the breakwall, now subject to a long-term lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The wall is dangerous and walking it is extremely discouraged. And there are no public docking facilities at the light itself. The U.S. Coast Guard, which still maintains a modern beacon there, gains access via a ladder.
Dealing with the paperwork to gain title for the Oswego Lighthouse proved just as difficult. The mayor says, “There was a bridge on the (NY) Thruway downstate that collapsed, and as fate would have it, the paper of our request for the intent sent to the federal government was on the mail carrier truck that fell into the river. So they called us and said, ‘Where’s the paper?’ And we said, ‘We sent it.’ And they tracked it down, and sure enough it was on that vehicle that ended up in the water, so we had to redo that, quick!”
The Oswego West Pierhead Light itself is not without a troubled history. In December of 1942, six Coast Guardsmen lost their lives during a crew change at the lighthouse and the resulting rescue attempt during a storm. (See June, 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest, “Remembering The Oswego Six.”)
Mayor Bateman says that he can imagine the interior of the lighthouse being returned to the original condition when the Coast Guard staffed it. “The ultimate goal is to have tours out there as an extension of the H. Lee White Museum,” he says. “I can foresee having a dinner party or something out there, it’s just a perfect spot to watch a great sunset here on Lake Ontario, and they could use that as a fundraising opportunity for the lighthouse.”
The City of Oswego is committed to ensure that the lighthouse remains a publicly held property for all to enjoy.
For more information on their lighthouse project, contact the H. Lee White Marine Museum at 315-342-0480.
This story appeared in the
July 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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