Buffalo did not officially become a city until 1832, the year before the lighthouse was completed. It had all of 10,000 inhabitants, half of them foreign-born, and the population had quadrupled in the seven years since the opening of the Erie Canal.
The lighthouse was a tapering octagonal tower built of hewn limestone and topped with an ornate lantern and weather vane: a copper lightning rod ran its 44-foot height on stand-off booms. Parabolic reflectors intensified the light and there was even a len s -- a greenish circle of glass that didn't last too long in the new tower.
Buffalo's 1833 Lighthouse as it appeared in 1859 (National Archives - Michael Vogel Collection)
Harbor superintendent Isaac F.S. Smith and Pierre A. Barker, collector of the port, voyaged out into the lake to check the light. Together, they decided that the reflectors alone produced a better light, and the lens was removed from the Lewis Argand la mp to continue its career as a magnifier for the reading lamps of keeper William Jones and his son Fernando, who decades later would donate it to the local history museum.
Despite the hitch, the new tower was deemed a success. A local newspaper unblushingly dubbed it the "most perfect work of its kind on this side of the ocean and perhaps in the world," and it undoubtedly provided solace to the captains of the eleven st eamboats operating from Buffalo harbor that year as 42,956 passengers sailed west from Buffalo and another 18,529 returned east.
By the time of the 1837 report of the Board of Navy Commissioners to Congress on American lighthouses, however, Buffalo Harbor again had troubles. Lieutenant G.J. Pendergast, USN, considered the 15-reflector array at Buffalo "a good stationary light on a stone tower, at the end of the harbor pier," but added that the harbor itself was too congested and a new one should be built, as "no place on Lake Erie is of more importance in a commercial point of view than Buffalo, none more deserving of the favors of the General Government."
The General Government, of course, took years to act on that suggestion. Before it did, a violent gale known as the Great Storm of 1844 lashed the Buffalo waterfront and severely damaged the lighthouse pier, especially its two-foot thick parapet wall. Th e October storm lasted three days, ending with a sudden 180-degree windshift that sent a wall of water across the lower city, lifting ships ashore and driving one schooner untouched through a gap in the pier between the lighthouse and land. Survivors of t he storm laid the dead, scores of them, in rows in the City Hall and courthouse.
The interior of the Lamp Shop as seen in 1901 (National Archives - Michael Vogel Collection).
The next year the government began rebuilding the parapet wall with heavy stones averaging four feet in length and one to three tons in weight. Dressed on bottoms and joints but with rough faces, the stones were laid in hydraulic cement. The new wall wa s eight feet thick at its bottom and tapered to four feet at its top, which was capped with foot-thick heavy coping. The work was suspended in 1846, but resumed in 1853 and 1854 with construction of 1,000 feet of exterior slope averaging 12 feet, topped b y broad flagging.
This 4th order Fresnel Lens is currently housed in the 1833 Buffalo Light. It was originally used in the South Buffalo Light (Michael Vogel Collection).
In 1852 federal lawmakers appropriated $2,500 for a fog bell or whistle at the lighthouse. The bell was not delivered that year, or for several years after that -- lighthouse establishment annual reports cite the unsatisfactory performance of a recent si milar installation in Maine -- but Buffalo lightkeeper Alexander Ramsdell did acknowledge the delivery by district lighthouse superintendent Henry B. Miller that May of 125 gallons of winter sperm whale oil, 124 gallons of spring oil, 100 tube glasses, 4 gross wicks, 12 papers Tripoli, 1 buff skin, 40 yards cotton cloth, 70 pounds oil of soap, 50 pounds white lead, 2 corn brooms, 2 paint and 1 whitewash brushes, and one pair of snuffers. And the Lighthouse Establishment Report of 1852 recommended Buffalo as one of 20 principal lakes lights that should get a third-order Fresnel lens.
Instead, in 1854 "at Buffalo lighthouse a new chandelier was procured, reducing the arc of illumination from 180 degrees to 110 degrees" but increasing its intensity: in 1856 the fog bell and the third-order fixed white lens finally were installed -- an operation that required removal of the old lantern, the addition of a course of stone casement windows, and a new two-story metal top including both service room and lantern, topped with a platinum-tipped copper lightning rod.
The keeper's quarter's remained more than a thousand feet away, on the land where the original lighthouse had stood until the 1840s.