East Charity Shoal Light

July 25, 2019

East Charity Shoal Light, offshore lighthouse near Saint Lawrence River's entrance in Lake Ontario, south of the city of Kingston, Ontario, Jefferson County, New York (near the Canada-United States border)


Location: Cape Vincent, NY
Station Established: 1929
Year Current Tower First Lit: 1877
Operational: yes
Automated: 1939
Deactivated: N/A
Foundation Materials: concrete
Construction Materials: cast iron
Tower Shape: octagonal
Height: 16’
Markings/Pattern: white with black lantern
Relationship to Other Structure:
Original Lens: fifth order Fresnel lens
Appropriation: $95,125

Historical Information:

  • Originally served at Vermilion Station from 1877 to 1929. It was removed after damaged in an ice storm.
  • The steamship Rosedale was built in Sunderland, England in 1888. Her maiden run completed the first ever direct voyage went through the St. Lawrence River, from London to Chicago. This was a great accomplishment, as it proved that grains from the elevators in Chicago, and other ports on the Great Lakes, could be shipped from London without transshipment. Unfortunately, on December 5, 1897, the Rosedale grounded upon the rocks of East Charity Shoal during a northwest gale. The vessel was abandoned to her underwriters, but was eventually towed off by a wrecking company. It was eventually rebuilt and returned to service.
  • During the summer of 1900, John C. Churchill, Jr. visited the site of the light to survey and chart the outlying spur known as East Charity Shoal. This hazard lay in the line of transit for vessels traveling the St. Lawrence River. The area was about 3,000 feet long at some points, which was covered by only ten feet of water. Mr. Churchill stated that “Notice is hereby given that a nun buoy painted red and numbered 2 has been placed in twenty feet of water to mark the easterly edge of East Charity shoal, Lake Ontario, New York. This buoy is about 1 3/8 miles E.S.E. of Charity shoal gas buoy. It is recommended that vessels bound to and from the main channel of the St. Lawrence River, and using the passage between Galloo and Main Duck Islands, should keep to the eastward of this buoy.” This buoy didn’t prevent all mishaps. In October 1912, the steamer Rock Ferry ran aground on East Charity Shoal, and tugs aided in an attempt to free her. The Lighthouse Service eventually decided a more permanent method of marking the shoal needed to be put in place. In May 1934, newspapers in the upstate New York region advertised that sealed proposals would be accepted by the Superintendent of Lighthouses in Buffalo for a “timber crib-concrete superstructure” on East Charity Shoal.
  • The Walls Company was selected as the contractor for the project. On November 24, 1934, the company completed enough of the structure so that a temporary light could be established on the south side of the crib. The foundation was a fifty foot square crib, which varied between eleven and fourteen feet to fit the shoal. The crib was constructed ashore in an inverted position, and was launched, righted and towed to the site. It was sunk in place using the stone and interlocking blocks of pre-cast concrete. A reinforced concrete slab was placed over the entire pier, which was also of reinforced concrete and octagonal in form. This was built to support an octagonal iron tower. A central room in the concrete pier measures tweny by forty-four feet. The deckhouse stands at eleven-and-a-half feet tall and the diameter is roughly twenty feet. The top of the concrete pier stands at approximately eighteen feet above lake level.
  • The tower was installed on the deckhouse in 1935. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was placed in the lantern room and a 1,300 candlepower light was installed at a focal plane of fifty-two feet above low water depth. Acetylene was used as the illuminant.
  • The iron tower at East Charity Shoal has served at two stations and on two different Great Lakes. It was first installed in 1877 at the end of a pier in Vermilion, Ohio. It marked the entrance to the Vermilion River from Lake Erie. After the light served this location for over fifty years, two teenage brothers, who lived next to the harbor, discovered the lighthouse had developed a lean after the pier had been damaged by an ice storm. The father of the boys contacted the Lighthouse Service, and not long after, the heavy tower was replaced by a much lighter automated tower.
  • Years after the beacon was taken away, Ted Wakefield, one of the two boys who had noticed the lean, led a fundraising drive to build a replica of the 1877 tower for the museum grounds. During the summer of 1991, his dream was realized when a crane lifted the newly cast tower onto its prepared foundation overlooking Lake Erie.
  • For years, the fate of the 1877 lighthouse was unknown. Most Vermilionites thought it ended up on the scrap heap, but the answer presented itself to the town of Vermilion when Olin M. Stevens, of Columbus, Ohio, visited the Inland Seas Maritime Museum. Stevens was seeking information on his grandfather, Olin W. Stevens, who was a third generation lighthouse keeper. Stevens was searching for information on his ancestors to pass on to his grandchildren, and while searching an old trunk, he discovered a newspaper article that told about the service his grandfather provided at Tibbetts Point Lighthouse. An excerpt from the article read, “Although this is his first duty on Lake Ontario, Charity Shoal light, visible from the Tibbett's Point headland, is an old friend. The tower upholding the gas lamp on Charity formerly was under Keeper Stevens’ charge at Vermilion, near Lorain. Victim of an ice shove, it was salvaged and taken to Buffalo, where it was assigned to Charity.”
  • East Charity Shoal Lighthouse was never manned, however, it was responsible for saving at least one life. Dr. Joseph G. Reidel, a 37 year old physician from Syracuse, was sailing with his wife and another couple on Lake Ontario on August 5, 1955. Wind gusts of approximately 70mph stuck their dragon class sloop and caused Dr. Reidel to be washed overboard. He was able to tread water and keep sight of the boat while his wife and friends tried to rescue him. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and Dr. Reidel was presumed lost. As night fell, Dr. Reidel noticed the glint of the lighthouse and swam towards it. He struggled for 40 minutes to stay afloat, despite leg cramps and swallowing lots of water, but managed to pull himself up onto the pier at East Charity Shoal. He fell asleep after the trying ordeal, and was rescued at 5:30 am the following morning by three fishermen. He was eventually taken to Cape Vincent, where he was reunited with his wife and friends.
  • In July 2008, the lighthouse was declared surplus by the Coast Guard. The pursuant to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 was "made available at no cost to eligible entities defined as federal, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes." Qualified parties had until September 23, 2008 to submit a letter of interest. No qualified organization was found, so an online auction for the light was initiated on May 5, 2009. The lighthouse eventually sold for $25,501 on August 27, 2009 to Cyrena Nolan of Dallas, Texas. Nolan has plans to turn the second floor of the tower into a bar and use the other portion as a summer home.

Researched and written by Jamie Smith, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.