Cover photo courtesy of the National Archives
Cape Vincent breakwater light
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On the corner of Rt.12E and the stone quarry road in Cape Vincent sits an interesting piece of the towns history. Sitting at the edge of town is one of the lights from the Cape Vincent breakwater. Though it’s been long out of service, the light served an important role in the areas shipping. The larger lighthouse at Tibbetts point is a well-known landmark, and is a popular tourist destination.
Cape Vincent sits at the junction where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence river. This was an important site for shipping, one of the main means of transport in the early years of the region, along with the railroads. A breakwater was requested to be built in the 1850s, although it was the turn of the century before it came to fruition. The original plans called for 1600’ breakwater to be of log timber cribbing construction. It would run parallel to the railroad wharf, at a distance of 600’, and a projected cost of $320,000. Eventually the project was reduced to a 1500’ (some sources state 1400’) breakwater, 500’ from the wharf. Cost were to be kept under $200’000. Construction was begun, though the breakwater was original built smaller than planned, and would be lengthened in later years. On the last day of August, 1901, temporary red lights on masts were lighted for the first time. These were located about 20’ from the East & West ends of the breakwater. By 1904 permanent lights were constructed, being 25’ high, and 11’ square. These featured a 5-day lens lantern. These would be moved as the breakwater was lengthened.
John LaRock was hired as the first light keeper. He would row a boat from a rented boathouse to the breakwater to tend and service the lights. Numerous requests were made to acquire or build accommodations for the light keeper, with a figure of $5000 being asked for. It seems that the request was never granted.
1906 saw the breakwater extended, and the lights were moved accordingly, and a 7/8” steel life line was installed. In 1939 the lights were converted to electric power, resulting in brighter lighting. In 1951 the light houses were removed, and replaced by a skeletal steel structure. One lighthouse was purchased by a local family and used as a playhouse until time and weather took its toll and it was torn down. The second is the one that sits in front of the Cape Vincent highway department today. It’s is not clear if the remaining one was the East or West light. If you are in the area, it’s worth finding this light and taking a moment to consider how many vessels and people have sailed past it safely because of its aid to navigation. There is also plenty of history in the Cape- so enjoy that as well. You should also make the trip to Tibbetts Point lighthouse, it’s well worth the drive.
For more on the Tibbetts Point lighthouse: http://www.capevincent.org/lighthouse/lighthouse_001.htm
Credits & References
Thousand Islands Life
New York State Historic Newspapers