Digest>Archives> July 1999

The Lost Lights of Fair Haven, New York

By Timothy Harrison


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The Fair Haven Lighthouse, NY, built in 1877 no ...
Photo by: Courtesy of Mrs. Hallie A. Sweeting

Fair Haven, New York is a peaceful quaint village located on Lake Ontario midway on the New York Seaway Trail between Niagara Falls and Alexandra Bay. Originally a shipping port the town is now a resort community which offers, according to its Chamber of Commerce, some of the best fishing, swimming, boating and camping in New York State.

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Osgar Elmer shown here while he was a Life Guard ...

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The Fair Haven Range Light, NY. It is unclear ...
Photo by: Courtesy of Mrs. Hallie A. Sterling.

According to Bruce Jenvey, editor of Great Lakes Cruiser Magazine, "the most important thing to see while you are here, is the sunset." It has been said that the Fair Haven sunset is rivaled in beauty only by those in Japan. But, what you won't see when visiting here is the Fair Haven Lighthouses, since they no longer exist. As a matter of fact, nearly all recorded records only talk about one lighthouse, but in fact there were two.

The first keeper at the Fair Haven Light Station was Andrew R. Crossier who was appointed June 12, 1872. He was succeeded by Theodore Vought in February 1887, who was followed by Michael Fitzpatrick in 1908. Fitzpatrick served until 1929 when he was replaced by Ralph B. Scobie who in turn was replaced by Osgar K. Elmer on April Fool's Day 1941. It was Elmer's memories that contain most of the history of the light station.

When the lighthouse was first built at the end of the pier that juts out into Lake Ontario from Little Sodus Bay it was immediately realized that the keeper needed a real place to live. Although the second floor of the tiny tower did contain a bunk, stove and an oven, it was no place for a keeper to live, especially if the keeper was a married man with family. So the Lighthouse Service built a substantial residence, on shore, that was completed in August 1873 at a cost of $9,900. Besides, the living quarters in the tower were actually designed for bad weather emergency overnight stays as was the case when a keeper was stranded at the lighthouse for two nights while 10 foot waves crashed over the pier.

Just exactly when the second tower, a range light, was built at the south end of the pier, is unclear, but it was also maintained by the keeper. As a direct result of the keeper being stranded at the lighthouse, an elevated walk was bolted to the pier with a steel band cable so that the keeper could get back to land, even in bad weather.

When visibility was less than 2 1/2 miles, the fog bell was set by the keeper. He had to crank up three round weights of about 60 pounds. When the pulley caught the gears, he set the clock and as the weights moved down the pulley shaft the bell would ring three times every 30 seconds.

When Osgar Elmer became keeper of the Fair Haven Lights in 1941, he had already gained plenty of light keeping experience as an assistant keeper at the remote Galoo Island Lighthouse off Sackets Harbor, Oswego Lighthouse, NY, and Sodus Point Light, NY. He was also a native of Fair Haven having returned to his home town after serving in World War I and suffering a shrapnel wound in the Argonne campaign. When he returned to his home town he served as a Life Guard at the Fair Haven State Park, (before becoming a lighthouse keeper) where one summer, he was credited with saving the lives of 29 swimmers.

The position of Light Keeper at Fair Haven was abolished in October 1943 when a new skeleton light with a metal frame about 20 feet high was installed. At that time, Keeper Elmer was transferred to New York's Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse.

In a 1995 interview with the Citizen Newspaper of Auburn, New York, Elmer's two sons David and Kenneth recalled their unique experiences they had being the sons of a lighthouse keeper. "The isolation made our family very close," David said. "We worked together, played together and learned how to have fun as a family. Every day on the lake was different."

The lighthouses were torn down sometime around 1945 and now remain only a slight memory to anyone, lost in the pages of time. However, the keeper's house still stands having been sold to a private individual in 1965.

Fair Haven Village is located in the Town of Sterling, NY. We wish to thank Hallie A. Sweeting, Town of Sterling Historian for the historical documents that helped make this story possible.

This story appeared in the July 1999 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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