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Lake Champlain Lighthouses

Updated on February 16, 2015

Lighthouses of Lake Champlain

On July 3,1609, Samuel Champlain first saw the lake that would be given his name. His exploration showed a new, easier route between the St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers - via the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain. Eventually this led to the settlement of the Champlain Valley. As the settlements grew, commerce increased. Lumber, potash, iron all needed to be transported, and an increasing number of ships traveled the lake's waters. The increased traffic on the lake made shipping even more hazardous. The lighthouses of Lake Champlain helped to make lake traffic safer.

Lighthouses warned sailors of dangerous rocks, sandy shoals and shallow waters. The first of the Lake Champlain lighthouses was built on Juniper Island, Vermont in 1826, and by the end of the 19th century it had been joined by nine more of these watchtowers. Today there are twelve. Those lighthpouses that are still active are automated; most of the keeper's houses are privately owned, and one (Colchester Reef Lighthouse) is two miles from the water - on the grounds of the Shelburne Museum.

Lake Champlain Lighthouse Map

Lake Champlain Lighthouse Map
Lake Champlain Lighthouse Map

Windmill Point - 1858: Alburgh, Vermont

WindMill Point, Alburgh, Vermont
WindMill Point, Alburgh, Vermont

Windmill Point is a quiet point of land at the northern end of Lake Champlain in the town of Alburgh, Vermont. It is named for a stone windmill built by the French in the 1740's. It was a staging area for British troops several times during the Revolutionary War. In 1777 the British radeau, Thunderer, sank off Windmill Point while transporting wounded British troops back to Canada after the Battle of Saratoga.

In 1830 a private light was established at Windmill Point. It was replaced in 1858 by a 44' octagonal tower using limestone from nearby Isle La Motte. The fixed white light was visible for thirteen miles. In 1931 the lighthouse was replaced by a steel skeletal tower and the land transferred to the U.S. Custom Service to be used as a base to fight Lake Champlain rum-runners during Prohibition.

The lighthouse and keeper's quarters were later sold to private owners. Eventually the Coast Guard sought to restore the light to the original lighthouse, and in 2002 the Windmill Point Lighthouse returned to service after a seventy year retirement. This was the first relighting on Lake Champlain; several other relightings have since taken place.

Isle La Motte - 1881: Isle La Motte, Vermont

Isle La Motte, Vermont
Isle La Motte, Vermont

In 1609 Samuel de Champlain first set foot in the Lake Champlain Valley on a small island in the middle of the lake - claiming the land for France. Captain Pierre de La Motte built a fort here in 1666 established the first European settlement on Lake Champlain - near what is now Saint Anne's Shrine; the island bears his name, Isle La Motte.

Some 150 years later a lantern hung in a pine tree near the fort became the first Lake Champlain navigational beacon; the private light was later moved to a second story window of a stone house, and later to a 18 1/2 ' tower of limestone. In 1881 it was replaced with a 25' cast iron tower painted red, which later faded to a pinkish color.

The Isle La Motte Lighthouse, like many of its kin on Lake Champlain was replaced by a steel skeletal tower in the 1930s. In 2002, faced with the expense of replacing the steel tower, the Coast Guard opted to relight and return to service the Isle La Motte Lighthouse, as it had done with the Windmill Point Lighthouse in Alburgh, Vermont.

Point Au Roche - 1858: Point Au Roche, New York

Point au Roche, New York
Point au Roche, New York

In addition to Lake Champlain's being the site of important naval battles in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, with the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823, connecting the lake to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain became an important shipping route for commerce.

At the northern end of Lake Champlain ships must veer east just south of Isle La Motte around the La Roche Reef, to avoid the shoals. In 1858, the same year as the lights at Windmill Point and Crown Point, the Point Au Roche Lighthouse was activated.

The Point Au Roche Lighthouse was an octagonal blue limestone 50-foot tower with an attached wooden cottage. One distinguishing feature of these three sister towers at Windmill Point, Crown Point and Point Au Roche is the trapezoidal panes used in their lantern rooms. The light from the Point Au Roche Lighthouse was visible for thirteen miles.

In the 1930s all the lighthouses of Lake Champlain that were still active were automated by the Lighthouse Board. Each lighthouse, except Point Au Roche, had an automated beacon placed on a skeletal tower replacing the now-inactive lighthouse. At Point Au Roche the light remained in the tower but all the lighthouse property was sold in 1934.

The lake's shoreline has eaten away at the front of the tower, and the masonry has begun to crumble. One big piece of the cornice below the lantern room has fallen from the tower, and in 1989 the light was moved to a buoy on La Roche Reef because of safety concerns.

Cumberland Head - 1838: Plattsburgh, New York

Cumberland Head, Plattsburgh, New York
Cumberland Head, Plattsburgh, New York
Ghosts and Legends of Lake Champlain (Haunted America)
Ghosts and Legends of Lake Champlain (Haunted America)

Located between New York's Adirondacks and Vermont's Green Mountains, Lake Champlain has been the site of dark and mysterious events; it is not surprising that some spirits linger in this otherwise tranquil place.

Join Burlington's Thea Lewis as she explores the ghosts and legends that haunt Lake Champlain.

 

In 1814 combined British land and naval forces from Canada invaded the new United States of America; they intended to use Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley as their route. Nearly 11,000 British troops commanded by Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost marched south towards Plattsburgh, and a British fleet under Captain Downie aboard the Confiance sailed up Lake Champlain

.

On September 11, 1814, the British naval fleet rounded Cumberland Head intent on joining the British army and take control of Plattsburgh. The American fleet, under Thomas Macdonough, had strategically positioned themselves - with the only opening between the guns of the American ships and the guns of the fort at Plattsburgh, over a dangerous sunken reef. The Americans, though outnumbered, successfully repelled the British fleet, and in turn forcing the entire invasionary force to retreat to Canada. The victory helped the United States protect the northern border and eventually end the War of 1812.

It is here, guarding this historic spot, that the Cumberland Head Lighthouse was built to guide sailors safely into the Plattsburgh harbor. The tower was constructed in 1838, made of native rubble limestone. The light used eleven lamps with reflectors.

The tower was taken apart in 1867 and transported to a nearby location, where a new tower was built that would be more visible. Blocks of blue limestone from Isle La Motte's Fisk Quarry were hauled by oxen across a frozen Lake Champlain and used in the construction of the new tower. The new light was first exhibited on November 1, 1868, and was now visible for fifteen miles. The new light station was a 50' conical tower with an attached two story Victorian home.

A steel skeletal tower was built between the tower and lakeshore in 1934, and the Cumberland Head Lighthouse was decommissioned and subsequently abandoned. In March 2003 the Coast Guard returned the light to the tower .

Bluff Point - 1874: Valcour Island, New York

Bluff Point, Valcour Island, New York
Bluff Point, Valcour Island, New York

On October 11, 1776, an American naval force, commanded by Benedict Arnold, hid on the west side of Valcour Island, waiting for the massive British fleet sailing up the lake from Canada. The British turned to engage the Patriots in the Revolutionary War's first naval - the Battle of Lake Champlain.

The American fleet suffered the most damage from the battle, and after dark, Benedict Arnold, seeing that his ragged fleet could not survive another day, ordered his crews to row with their oars muffled past the British fleet. By morning, Arnold's fleet had reached Schuyler Island - nine miles south of the British fleet. There they scuttled two damaged vessels, and the remnants of the fleet continued south toward Crown Point. The superior British vessels overtook the crippled American ships near Split Rock and shots exchanged. Some American ships surrendered, and Arnold ran the surviving ships aground in what is now known as Arnold's Bay, put them to the torch, and fled south on foot.

On the western shore of Valcour Island, overlooking where the Battle of Lake Champlain began, is the two-story Bluff Point Lighthouse guiding ships through the channel between the New York shore and the island.

The 35' octagonal tower is built of blue limestone rock, and its light can be seen for eighteen miles. It is a twin of the Barber Point Lighthouse. Placed into service in 1874 after ice-out on Lake Champlain, the Bluff Point Lighthouse was the last manned light station completed on Lake Champlain.

A steel, skeletal tower with an automatic light replaced the manned lighthouse in 1930. In the mid-1980s, the property was sold to the State of New York, which maintains Valcour Island as part of the Adirondack State Park. The State owns the lighthouse with maintenance of the structure handled by the Clinton County Historical Association. On November 16, 2004, the light was transferred from the skeletal tower back to the lantern room. The Bluff Point Lighthouse is the only Lake Champlain lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bluff Point Lighthouse Videos

A Kayaker's Guide to Lake Champlain: Exploring the New York, Vermont & Quebec Shores
A Kayaker's Guide to Lake Champlain: Exploring the New York, Vermont & Quebec Shores

50 different watery paths of adventure divided into eight sections.

This is a well-rounded overview of Lake Champlain's remarkable natural resource. Appendices include information on Lake Champlain environmental organizations, museums & historical places, wildlife areas, state parks, and launch sites.

 

Juniper Island - 1826: Juniper Island, Vermont

Juniper Island, Vermont
Juniper Island, Vermont

There was no organization to the earliest lights on Lake Champlain so on March 3, 1825 the U.S. Congress authorized funds for the first Lake Champlain lighthouse to serve the increasing number of vessels using the growing port at Burlington, Vermont.

The state of Vermont purchased Juniper Island, which rises steeply from Lake Champlain about three miles offshore from Burlington, and later ceded it to the federal government.

First used on May 11, 1826 Juniper Island Lighthouse was a 30' cone-shaped brick tower, with ten lamps backed by reflectors. It replaced a light that a shipping company had mounted to the top of a pole.

A new tower made up of four cast-iron rings stacked to form a twenty-five-foot cylinder topped with a lantern room was constructed in 1846. An attached two-story house served as quarters for the lighthousekeeper. That iron tower is the oldest surviving cast-iron lighthouse in the United States.

In 1853, a 4th order Fresnel lens replaced the reflector lamps. The fixed white light was visible for seventeen miles. Juniper Island also had a fog bell, which if needed, could be rung automatically every fifteen seconds by a clock mechanism.

The light was replaced by a 60' steel skeleton tower on the south shore of the island in 1954. Two years later the island was sold to a private owner at auction. The keeper's house was severely damaged by fire in 1962., but the iron tower and bell house survived. Beginning in 2001, the current owners of the lighthouse have reconstructed the keeper's house by using over 17,000 bricks they had salvaged from the original dwelling. The exterior of the dwelling is now complete.

Although a number of the Lake Champlain lighthouses have once again had lights placed in their lantern rooms, it is unlikely that the Juniper Island tower will ever be reactivated since only the tip can be seen from the water, because of the dense brush and foliage on the island.

Juniper Island Lighhouse

Burlington Breakwater- North - 1857: Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont
Burlington, Vermont

Video of Lake Champlain Lighthouses - Northern Vermont Lighthouses

Burlington Breakwater- South - 1857: Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont
Burlington, Vermont

Colchester Reef Lighthouse - 1871: Shelburne Museum (1952), Shelburne, Vermont

Colchester Reef Lighthouse, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Colchester Reef Lighthouse, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont

Split Rock - 1838: Willsboro Point, New York

Willsboro Point, New York
Willsboro Point, New York

Barber's Point - 1873: Westport, New York

Barber's Point Light,  Westport, New York
Barber's Point Light, Westport, New York

Crown Point - 1858: Crown Point, New York

Crown Point, New York
Crown Point, New York

Have You Visited Any of Lake Champlain's Lighthouses? - Do you have a story to share about Lake Champlain's Lighthouses?

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      Ronda 12 months ago

      I am a descendent of Frank Diamond who was a lighthouse keeper of several lights on Lake Champlain. My maternal grandmother's mother was one of Frank Diamond's children. I hope to visit all of the locations in the future.

    • EsJam profile image

      Essie 2 years ago from Southern California

      Hello Unlimted 11-11,

      What a delightful read! I was captivated by the photos that you provided, and the history of the lighthouses. I am especially interested in lighthouses that have a history of being used in wars.

      The Split Rock tower is awesome!

    • Unlimited11-11 profile image
      Author

      Tom McHugh 4 years ago from Lake Champlain, Vermont, USA

      @TolovajWordsmith: Thank you for visiting, liking and commenting on my lens. I hope that if you visit Lake Champlain, you'll have a chance to view or visit one of these lighthouses. Thanks again.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      No, I don't have a story but I enjoyed your very much. Lighthouses are so romantic... Perfect place for a writer or to escape from the world.

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      Author

      Tom McHugh 4 years ago from Lake Champlain, Vermont, USA

      @flycatcherrr: Thanks for stopping by to visit my lens and for your interesting comment and observation. By the way: we live about 2 miles from the US-Canada border and enjoy spending time in your beautiful country.

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      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      What an astonishing variety in architecture there is among all those lighthouses. I suppose it has to do in part with the age of the structure and in part with the availability of local building materials (e.g. stone va wood) and people skilled in handing those materials? A beautiful part of the continent!