On a clear day you can see Point Abino in Fort Erie, Ont., from the lens room atop the historic Buffalo Lighthouse that has defined the city’s waterfront since 1833.
But you’d better hurry.
On Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. the Buffalo Lighthouse Association will sponsor its annual maritime festival and conduct tours of the tower.
The tours – plus one more round from noon to 4 p.m. on Aug. 10 to mark National Lighthouse Day – will be the last chances the public will have to climb to the top of the 61-foot tower.
That’s 50 steps, spiral-style, plus three iron ladders and hatches that lead to the lens room and one of the best unfettered waterfront views in town.
“If you want to stand in the lens room at the top of the tower, take in the waterfront and cityscape, this will be one of your last chances,” said Mike Vogel, association president. “When we put the lens back up in the lantern, it will occupy pretty much the whole space so people won’t be able to get up in there.”
The new lens – a third order Fresnel – is expected to replicate the original lens and weigh 650 pounds when installed in the lighthouse sometime next spring, said Stasia Vogel, Vogel’s wife and director of special events for the association. The new lens is crafted out of high-density acrylic that will weather and age well, she added.
Each one of the 150 lens pieces is being meticulously handcrafted in Florida by an engineer for Disney World who has a sideline of building classic lighthouse lenses, Mike Vogel said. Engineer Dan Spinella will deliver parts of the new lens to Buffalo in September.
Spinella’s company, Artworks Florida, was established in 1992 to aid in the restoration of the first order classic Fresnel lens in Florida’s St. Augustine Lighthouse.
“He’s been working on our lighthouse lens since early June,” Vogel said. “In his day job, he just finished the Seven Dwarfs Roller Coaster.”
The old lighthouse lens, newly restored after its transfer from the South Buffalo Light Station, is on display at the Heritage Discovery Center on Lee Street. The discovery center is also home to the Western New York Railway Historical Society’s Railroad museum and also houses the Steel Plant Museum.
The lens construction caps a $650,000 restoration effort of the historic landmark, which is under the stewardship of the Buffalo Lighthouse Association.
“The lens is pretty much the soul of the lighthouse,” Vogel said. “The tower basically exists to lift that lens up so the light it produces can be seen farther out.”
“A classical lighthouse lens is designed to take an oil lamp flame and project it as a light beam that can be seen 16 miles out,” Vogel said. “It’s a complex system of brass and bronze framed with crystal prisms.”
The Buffalo Lighthouse was discontinued as a lighthouse in 1914. Initial renovations began in 1987, two years after the nonprofit association was formed to maintain the structure. Improvements included the city-funded brick walking path leading up to the lighthouse, masonry repainting on the structure’s four-foot-thick wall and other stone work.
In 1984, the lighthouse was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, which leases it to the association, Stasia Vogel said.
The lighthouse has been dark for some time after its exterior lighting system blew a condenser, Vogel said.
“We were trying to light it green for Garden Walk last weekend but discovered a faulty condenser, a minor fix but one that will take a little money,” Stasia Vogel said.
The lighthouse, the oldest structure in Buffalo at its original location, is on 11 acres of parkland that is also maintained by the lighthouse association, Mike Vogel said.
“Hopefully we can raise some money for upkeep and park landscaping,” he said.
Group tours will be available by appointment until the snow falls.
Visitors to Saturday’s Lighthouse Maritime Festival can expect to take part in a variety of activities.
• A new welcome center, made by Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania and hauled to Buffalo in its finished form by flatbed last August, will feature a photo art display by Gene Witkowski. The 16-by-32-foot structure was donated by Richard and Sandra Petri.
• Timed tour tickets will be available at the welcome center for a suggested donation of $5. Proper footwear is required. The tour of the lighthouse is not considered appropriate for small children.
• “Make a Lighthouse” will offer children the opportunity to create their own lighthouse with a kit fashioned by Stasia Vogel that features a battery-powered tealight. Donations accepted.
• A chicken barbecue by Chiavetta’s will be served for $10.
• Local authors will be present to sign their historical books.
The Buffalo Lighthouse is located on Buffalo Lighthouse Point, adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard base at One Fuhrmann Blvd.
For more information, visit buffalolight.org or call 947-9126.