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Home > Our City > Buffalo My City > Buffalo My City Watercolors > 07-A The Buffalo Lighthouse (1990)

07-A The Buffalo Lighthouse (1990)

Narrative by - David M. Rote
(Narratives are copyrighted)

The "Chinaman's Light" is located on the grounds of the U.S. Coast Guard Base, Erie Basin Marina at the mouth of the Buffalo River.

Built in 1833, this is one of the oldest lights on the Great Lakes. The walls of the tapered octagonal limestone tower are 4 feet thick at the base and rise to a height of 44 feet. The lighthouse stands on a stone pier which was originally constructed in 1820, thus providing since that time a sheltered harbor for the city of Buffalo and accomplished through the efforts of several prominent Buffalonians including Judge Samuel Wilkeson who was also one of Buffalo's early mayors. The lighthouse is the oldest structure in the city standing on its original site and not altered for other use.

Two stories emerge about how the lighthouse gained its nickname, "Chinaman's Light". One, the more obvious to the eye, is the fact that the top of the lantern housing looks like a Chinese coolie hat. The other, which tends to be more historical, is that a pagoda-like wooden lookout tower stood adjacent to the lighthouse for many years, from which illegal immigrants crossing from Canada, including the Chinese, were monitored and apprehended. This tower, complete with a hanging light, was long familiar to the crews of Great Lakes vessels and when the tower was eventually torn down, the name of "Chinaman" was transferred to the lighthouse itself.

In 1914, the lens was removed and placed in the outer harbor breakwater light which was more visible to lake traffic. The lighthouse was threatened with demolition, but was saved and restored in the late 1950's. In 1985, the Buffalo Lighthouse Association was formed to further insured the longevity of the 1833 lighthouse. Additional restoration was completed in the late 1980's when a park-like entrance and a pedestrian walkway along the south bank of Buffalo River were developed including historical plaques which tell of earlier lighthouses and other harbor-related information of interest.

The Buffalo Lighthouse Association continues to work in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard in enhancing and enlarging public access to the site and it is a much-anticipated dream to someday have a museum and gift store adjacent to the lighthouse.