Commerce continued to increase in Buffalo Harbor, and the need for better lights was urgent. The new stories on the harbor light put its beacon 76 feet above lake level, including both the stone molehead and the 60-foot tower, and in that same year a fixed white light varied by a white flash was established at the nearby Horseshoe Reef Light Station.
Both lights were repaired extensively in 1866, and in 1868 a detached 4,000-foot breakwater was built 2,500 feet out from the lighthouse to enlarge the harbor even more. In 1870, the Treasury Department contracted for two more lights on the breakwater, including a large breakwater light station that began to take shape May 18, 1871, with the sinking of a 40-foot square crib 20 feet behind and 23 feet from the end of the breakwater.
The wooden crib was allowed to settle until June 15, when six stone courses were added. The work again was allowed to settle, before the remainder of the light station base was completed.
The new breakwater light, with a fourth-order fixed red beacon 37 feet above Lake Erie, was established in 1872 and the fog bell was moved from the old tower to the new station.
The decade also saw the launching of the Great Lakes division of the Life Saving Service. The Buffalo Life Saving Station set up quarters on lighthouse land in 1879, two years after it was established as the lakes' Lifeboat Station No. 5 just across the river near the Army Engineers boathouse.
In 1885, incandescent kerosene oil vapor replaced the lard oil that had been used in Buffalo's lighthouse lamps since the mid-1850's, and other modernization was contemplated as well. A recommendation in 1890 that the fog bell be replaced by a steam signal was repeated by local lighthouse officials in 1891, 1892, 1893, and the appropriation finally came through for a 10-inch steam fog whistle to be ready late that year at the breakwater light station.
The foghorn's two 3-second blasts per minute were soon changed, in 1895, to one blast per minute, and a reflector was added to eliminate "an annoyance to the people of Buffalo." Lighthouse keepers had their own annoyances -- for one thing, dragging anchors kept breaking the water pipeline from the city to the lighthouse, until they finally buried the thing in a submarine trench. But their occupation got a huge boost in professionalism in 1896 when a Buffalonian, President Grover Cleveland, ordered that keepers' jobs be classed as civil service rather than political patronage posts.
The keeper's quarters were rebuilt in 1899 and the buff-colored stone of the old tower was painted white in 1900. In 1902, the year after the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo stunned the country with the first major urban use of electric lights and saddened it with the assassinalion of President McKinley, the Lighthouse Board voted to change the tower's light characteristic from fixed to equal-flashing white to help it stand out against the growing background of city lights.
A four-panel lens was ordered from Chance Brother & Co. in England at a cost of $3,386.74 -- more than six times the annual salary of the keeper, and more than 7 1/2 times the annual pay of the assistant keeper who would be needed to help with the rotating lens. The old fixed lens was taken from the stone pieread tower on April 8, 1905 and the new assembly, flashing white every six seconds, took its place. A small square iron oil house was built nearby, and a suggestion to give the tower double duty as a Life Saving Station lookout was abandoned when a new, pagoda-like lookout tower -- nicknamed "Chinaman's Light" both for its appearance and for its usage to watch for illegal Chinese immigration across the Niagara from nearby Canada -- was built 150 feet away.
Buffalo also added to its collection of lights in the early years of the century, when it and its suburbs became the world's leading lumber port and grain-milling and storage center. Despite delays caused by procurement difficulties, defective materials and workmanship, two lighthouses -- a manned station and a small and oddly-shaped metal structure later dubbed the "bottle light" -- were lighted in 1903 to flank the harbor's new south entrance near the equally new and sprawling Lackawanna Steel plant, and a second "bottle" was installed at the old north entrance.
Also in 1905, the local lighthouse inspector informed the Lighthouse Board that "the keeper of Buffalo lightstation states that the stove in use at the tower in his charge is so small as to heat insufficiently the watchroom, and that he is therefore often obliged to go to the dwelling to warm himself." With unaccustomed rapidity, the service moved to add a two-ton coal bin to the lower level of the tower in 1906.
The tower's days as a working lighthouse were numbered, however. The breakwater light had been taking a fairly regular beating from lakes shipping -- it was hit by a tug in 1899, by a barge in 1900, by a freighter in 1909 and by a steamer in 1910 -- but it was growing in importance as the harbor expanded outward. The older stone tower was becoming once more just a pierhead light.
After repeated requests, the federal govemment set aside $60,000 to rebuild the breakwater light, and the work was carried out from 1912 to 1914. A compressed air diaphone replaced the old steam fog whistle in 1914, and the third-order Fresnel lens was moved from the "Old Stone Light" to the breakwater station in time for the spring thaw and the opening of the navigational season in 1914. The Corps of Engineers granted permission to install a Black Rock Ship Canal traffic control signal in the old tower, but there's no indication that even that much duty was delegated to the old landmark.
While the powerful beams of the breakwater light offered welcome to the sheltered harbor, the old stone tower stayed dark. It saw brief spells of duty as a lookout tower, especially during Prohibition when rum-running from Canada was a popular Lake Erie and Niagara River occupation, and it inherited its "Chinaman's Light" nickname when the old wooden watchtower was torn down. But the official Buffalo Light now had a third home, out there on the breakwater.