Autumn in New England is a spectacular time, and this year was perhaps the most spectacular we've seen in many years. With that in mind, my wife Karen and I combined two of our favorite pastimes, leaf peeping and lighthouses.
When most people think of lighthouses, the state of Vermont isn't normally on the list. There are lighthouses in Vermont, however, on Lake Champlain. After the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain is the largest fresh water lake in the U. S. Accessible from the north by the St Lawrence Seaway, and from the south by the Hudson River, Lake Champlain played an important part in the country's early history.
It was along the banks of Lake Champlain where General Horatio Gates and a young Benedict Arnold lead the raw American troops to victory over the mighty British army at Saratoga, NY. The earlier efforts of Arnold and a small flotilla of American craft which drove the British navy out of Lake Champlain contributed greatly to the victory.
It was also on the New York shores of the lake where Vermont native Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys captured the British fort at Ticonderoga. It was the cannon which were captured here and dragged through the winter mountains which helped George Washington's fledgling "army" drive the British from Boston.
Due to its size and proximity to both Canada and New York City, Lake Champlain became a vital waterway to commercial traffic in the 17 and 1800's. With its many islands and navigational hazards, it was only natural that lighthouses would be built to aid the maritime traffic.
Burlington, Vermont, the largest city on the lake, has a natural harbor unequaled by few cities, even those which are on the ocean. In order to protect the harbor from rough waters from westward winds, a breakwater was constructed in 1823, with wooden lighthouses on both the north and south ends a few years later. When these lighthouses were destroyed by ice, new wooden lighthouses replaced them. Again destroyed by ice, the lighthouses were eventually replaced by steel skeletal lights by 1950.
In 2003, the skeletal towers were replaced by lights which replicated the originals built during the 1800's.
Burlington North Breakwater
Burlington South Breakwater
On the very south end of Burlington Harbor is another lighthouse which was erected by the nearby condominium owners. This lighthouse isn't an official aid to navigation, although it does sport a light bulb which illuminates at night. Named "Phony Baloney Lighthouse" by the condo owners, the lighthouse was built just for aesthetics.
The "Phony Baloney Lighthouse"
At the north end of Lake Champlain, almost at the Canadian border, lie a number of large islands. Connected now by the bridges of Vermont Highway 2, these island passages were treacherous for 19th century mariners. Isle la Motte Lighthouse
is on the northernmost island in this group, aptly named Isle la Motte. Originally painted orange, the light has faded to a salmon pink color.
Isle la Motte Lighthouse
Just to the north of Isle la Motte, a peninsula hangs down into Lake Champlain from the Canadian side. Just below the border, a tract of land juts out into the American side of Lake Champlain. The Windmill Point Lighthouse
lights the way from the top of this jutting tract of land.
Windmill Point Lighthouse
Both the Windmill Point and Isle la Motte Lighthouses are privately owned, and are not open to the public.
Just to the south of Burlington, in the town of Shelburne, is the Shelburne Museum
. This large museum contains a host of buildings and other Americana, most of which date back to the 1800's. Trains and train stations, horse barns and buggies, circus items, a blacksmith shop, an 1800's working printing press, and a carousel are just a small sample of the numerous exhibits. The museum even sports the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence, the 220 foot Ticonderoga.
Adjacent to the Ticonderoga lies Colchester Reef Lighthouse
. The lighthouse's original home was on a reef in the middle of Lake Champlain. In 1952, the decommissioned lighthouse, along with its original granite pier, was relocated to the grounds of the Shelburne Museum.
Colchester Reef Lighthouse
Inside Colchester Reef Lighthouse
Unfortunately, though there are furnishings in two of the upstairs bedrooms of the lighthouse, the remaining rooms are empty, save for some photos and stories of Lake Champlain shipwrecks and the like. The tower is also unaccessible. I wish the museum would try to totally restore the inside of the lighthouse to the time when it was active, and attempt to better portray the lives of its keepers. The lighthouse was interesting to see, but quite lacking.
There are also other lighthouses on Lake Champlain which we weren't able to get to. We attempted to view Juniper Island Light near Burlington from a cruise ship, but the lighthouse, which is on a privately owned island, was very difficult to see through the trees.
On the New York side of the lake are the privately owned Barber's Point Light in Westport, the recently renovated Bluff Point Light on Valcour Island, (we missed the public tour excursion which ended for the season in September), the Point Aux Roches Light in Plattsburgh, Split Rock Point Light in Essex, (another privately owned lighthouse), and the Champlain Memorial at Crown Point
So many lighthouses, so little time.....