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Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse: Giving light for 200 years

Photo by Caurie Putnam

This year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse on Lake Ontario. You can find this historic and still functioning lighthouse on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Genesee River and lake, at 70 Lighthouse Street in Rochester’s Charlotte neighborhood.

“We are celebrating the year the tower was built, which was 1822,” said Fred Amato, president of the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Historical Society. “The light station was built in this year, and although we don’t know an exact date, historical documents lead us to believe it was in July or September.”

The brick keeper’s house next to the lighthouse today was built in 1863. Both the keeper’s house and the forty-foot tower are open seasonally for tours from May to October 30.

If you want to climb the lighthouse tower, you’ll have 42 steps up a spiral staircase and 11-rungs on a ladder into the lamp room at the very top. Your climb will be rewarded with a beautiful view that spans 360-degrees. You’ll also learn about the history of lighthouses in the area via your tower guide.

Additionally, visitors can peruse educational exhibits and a gift shop inside the keeper’s house. Themes of current exhibits include a celebration of women’s suffrage, the history of the area’s maritime ships and boats and Ontario Beach Park, which the lighthouse overlooks.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Rochester station can also be seen from the site and the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse is required by the agency to be lit nightly as a registered secondary aid to navigation.

A unique fact about the lighthouse is that in 1984, local high school students from Edison Tech constructed a new lantern room for the structure. It was removed and slightly renovated in 2014 but remains in place today much as it looked in 1984.

The land around the lighthouse was originally the site of a Native American settlement, and there is now an Honorary International Peace Garden on the grounds with commemorative panels that explain the area’s history during the War of 1812.

Plenty of picnic tables dot the property, which is owned by Monroe County.

Special bicentennial events will be held all season on the grounds, inluding concerts, a family day and International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend on August 20-21. At this event, amateur radio enthusiasts set up on the grounds and try to make contact with other light stations around the world.

“We’re looking forward to a big year this year,” Amato said. “This is a special year for us, and we look forward to sharing it.”

For information on hours, rates, special group tours and bicentennial events visit geneseelighthouse.org.

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

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