New York State is home to so many unique attractions to visit. And because there are so many major waterways bordering the state, there are plenty of lighthouses to explore! While most of them are no longer in operation, or are automated without lighthouse keepers, they are still fascinating. Plus the views they offer are incredible! On the shores of Lake Ontario, you can enjoy an Oswego Lighthouse tour after a quick boat ride.
Thank you to Oswego County Tourism and the H. Lee White Maritime Museum for inviting me to tour the Oswego Lighthouse.
The History of the Oswego Lighthouse
Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse was built in 1934 to guide sailors coming into Oswego Harbor. Due to the high winds and ice that are common on Lake Ontario, the lighthouse had to be designed to withstand the elements. Since it was constructed well, it is now the last remaining lighthouse in Oswego out of the four that once were there.
The harbor itself is roughly 100 acres in total, and protected by several breakwaters. The Oswego Lighthouse sits at the end of a half-mile break wall at the mouth of the Oswego River. It sits atop a wooden crib that goes all the way to the bedrock at the bottom of the lake.
The lighthouse saw many different keepers residing there and caring for the building over the years. It was also a site to a tragedy in 1942. The lighthouse keeper at the time got stranded due to a fierce winter storm. When the Coast Guard came to rescue him and station two new keepers, 6 sailors lost their lives when their boat capsized.
Typically there were two lighthouse keepers on duty at any given time, each working 2 days on and 1 day off. That was until 1968 when the lighthouse was automated with LED lights.
Lighthouse Keeper Ned Goebricher
When I visited the lighthouse, I was lucky enough to be guided by Ned Goebricher, former lighthouse keep of the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse. Ned served at the lighthouse in 1956 during his time in the US Coast Guard before moving on to his next station. During his time in Oswego, he met his wife at the local soda fountain. Apart from that, his favorite part of being at the lighthouse was just how interesting and different it was from anything he’d done before. He was happy to tell us what life as a lighthouse keeper was like – and what they were and weren’t allowed to do while on duty.
The Lighthouse Gets Automated
When the lighthouse was first built, it contained a fourth order Fresnel Lens. The light could be seen for 17 miles. According to lighthouse keeper Ned, the original light “kicked ass”! But in 1968, the Fresnel Lens was replaced with LED light rings. Lighthouse keepers were no longer required to operate the station. I recommend going to visit the H. Lee White Maritime Museum to see the original lens on display after the lighthouse tour.
Since then, volunteers have worked hard to restore the lighthouse to its original glory – though there is still more work to be done.
Visiting the Oswego Lighthouse
Lighthouse tours are currently offered through the Maritime Museum. Visitors can book their tours online – and it’s recommended to book early, as each boat can only carry 6 guests. The boat shuttles back and forth throughout the day, picking up and dropping off guests for their tours.
You’ll exit the boat and climb into the caisson, or base, of the lighthouse. Make sure to look at the walls, which are 3-feet thick to protect the structure. Then take the stairs up to the first level to visit the residential areas – the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. The deck surrounds the first level, where you can see 360-degree views of the Oswego Harbor.
Continue upstairs again and you can climb the narrow spiral staircase to the very top. You’ll end up inside the lantern room, which is the glass that surrounds the light beacon.
With your ticket to the lighthouse, you also get admission to the maritime museum, where you can see the original lens and learn more about Oswego’s history.
After Your Lighthouse Tour…
No day in Oswego or boatride on Lake Ontario is complete without lunch or dinner at Rudy’s. The family-owned restaurant isn’t just a local favorite since 1946. It’s famous statewide! Every summer people celebrate the opening of Rudy’s. Why? Their simple and classic menu is a delicious Oswego tradition!
The restaurant serves over 200 pounds of fish each week throughout the summer. Most of the beef and produce is proudly sourced locally, and made with secret recipes that have passed down through generations. After receiving your order from the counter, pick your favorite picnic table to eat at and enjoy the lake views.