For millions of Americans, it marked a gateway to the future -- a beacon on an inland sea that served as a highway to a continent's heartland and the promise of new life in a new world.
Its light flashed out on the wide waters of Lake Erie, but for the tides of immigrants who settled the interior of a nation the first glimpse of Buffalo Light came as the packet boats neared the wharves at the end of the narrow Erie Canal.
In time, the tower at land's end would become known as "Chinaman's Light" -- but the flood of humanity that passed within hail of its already aged stones was largely European, and only a quirk of history would lend the lighthouse its nickname. The tower itself was already old when the mass migrations to American began, and it went dark just as Europe plunged into the first World War.
More than half a million immigrants ended their Erie Canal journeys at Buffalo's wharves, and stayed to build a city; countless others bearded steamers and packets and ventured past the lighthouse and onto the Great Lakes to build Cleveland, Detroit, Duluth, Milwaukee and Chicago, and a hundred smaller towns and cities in between.
Like other beacons in America's "northern lights," the tower at Buffalo Harbor stood sentinel not only on a shoreline, but on the history of a city. And Buffalo Light was one of the earliest, not only on the Great Lakes, but in all of America's lighthouse heritage.
Buffalo Light: Guardian of the Harbor web site © October 1998, Aaron Heverin
Last updated January, 2011