Oswego West Pierhouse Lighthouse:
Built to replace and improve upon an earlier harbor light, the 1934 lighthouse has a long and historic association with ship navigation in Lake Ontario and the Port of Oswego and currently represents a cherished visual landmark, symbolically connecting the City of Oswego with its maritime traditions.
Built as part of an extensive harbor enlargment project involving the construction of elevators by the New York State Barge Canal, new breakwaters and an enlarged anchorage.
The new lighthouse marked the entrance to the expanded harbor that was designed by the Office of the Superintendent of Lighthouses, Tenth District, in Buffalo in 1932-1933. The structure, placed at the end of a stone breakwater one-half mile out into Lake Ontario, required special engineering in order to withstand the high winds, heavy surf, and destructive ice commonly associated with Lake Ontario. The lighthouse, designed to accommodate a fourth order Fresnel lens, was built with a massive concrete caisson, similiar to one built in 1914 in Buffalo, to firmly anchor the structure on the bottom. Ironically, the concrete caisson of the 1914 lighthouse at Buffalo failed when struck by a large freigher in 1961. The superstructure of the new Oswego lighthouse was designed and built with bolted steel plate walls and roofs. In constract, the interior of the living quarters reflected the same finishes and conveniences typically associated with modest homes of the 1930s. These finishes, including varnished wood trim, remained unaltered.
On December 4, 1942, the lighthouse became the site of a tragic accident, claiming the lives of six Coast Guardsmen. In the midst of prolonged stormy weather, the lighthouse ran low on food and oil, and an attempt was made to rotate crews and resupply. A 30-foot boat arrived in heavy surf and sucessfully exchanged crews. In attempting to return to shore, the boat struck the adjacent breakwater and became unmanageable, drifting into the east breakwater where it overtuned. Only two crewmembers were able to climb up on the wall. A second boat and crew attempted a rescue, but it also capsized. Again, two more crewmembers reached the wall. The four inviduals who reached the wall were eventually evacuated, but the remaining six crewmembers in the water drowned. Only four bodies were recovered.
The St. Lawrence Seaway was completed in 1959, opening the Port of Oswego and its elevators to oceangoing freighters, underscoring the continuing need for reliable navigation aids. The West Pierhead Lighthouse was automated in 1967. In 1995, the original fourth order lens was carefully removed and placed on exhibit in the Museum.