Long Point West End (Old Cut)
This article originally appeared in the April-June 2006 issue of Seaway Review/Great Laker magazine.
Long Point, Ontario is a giant sandbar, across Lake Erie opposite Erie, Pennsylvania, stretching from the main land like a giant 16-mile long finger pointing at Dunkirk, New York. Driving out Provincial Road 59, one passes a series of marshes, marinas, tightly-packed summer cottages and beaches.
About six miles into the trip the road ends at the entrance to Long Point Provincial Park. Beyond the park are lands that have been owned since the mid-1850’s by the Long Point Company, a combination of Canadian and American citizens. The 14,000 acres has been off-limits to humans and has become a National Wilderness Area. The area is one of Eastern North America’s most important refuges and is home to a number of highly endangered or otherwise extinct reptiles.
At the park entrance is a historical marker explaining that the location is the site of ancient Indian portage that was used by missionaries as early as 1670. The portage, used for over 150 years, helped travelers to avoid the open waters of Lake Erie and the long and hazardous trip around the end of the point.
Across the road is a building that looks like a typical wooden Canadian lighthouse, but that raises some questions. Why is there a lighthouse here? You are more than 10 miles from the end of the point. Did someone move it here for a summer residence? Why would there be a lighthouse to mark a portage point?
In 1833, a storm broke a navigable channel through the peninsula that is Long Point, but the light was not erected until 1879. The channel was about one-quarter of a mile from the lighthouse, but the light was located at a narrow spot (think portage) in the point which made it visible from both sides of the huge sandbar. The new channel provided a short cut for the schooners that were the primary means of traveler at the time.
However, the new passage only lasted less than 30 years after the light was built. Another fierce storm in 1906 closed the shallow channel though the point, but it was not until 1916 that the light was extinguished. There is no explanation why the light was allowed to burn for ten years after navigation ceased. The property was privatized in 1918.
The lighthouse consists of a square tapered wooden, 3-story tower with a 1-1/2 story dwelling wrapped around two sides of the tower. The tower is 15-foot square at the foundation and tapers to 10-foot square at the lantern deck. The deck is supported by decorative brackets and is about 10-foot square. The original lantern was removed when the light was discontinued and a replica lantern has been constructed as an observation deck with a small light that is lighted on occasion by the owners. Overall the tower is 53-feet tall to the top of the replica lantern.
For a number of years the structure had served as a hunting cottage for private owners. A veranda porch had been added around three sides and the building has had several layers of siding added over the years. The building was barely recognizable as a former lighthouse although few changes had been made to the interior or the windows and doors.
Beginning in the spring of 1999 contractors removed the veranda that had been added and removed siding that consisted of two layers of asphalt singles, a layer of clapboards, a layer of cedar shakes and the original siding to reveal the original 8-inch by 1-3/4-inch thick pine sheathing.
The tower is supported by four 12-inch square native pine timbers that extend from the foundation to the floor of the lantern. The timbers and sheathing are first-growth pine and were milled on site from trees on the property. The foundation consists of two layers of criss-crossed logs supporting rubble stone walls.
Even though the building is only a few feet above the level of Lake Erie, there is a basement that occasionally has some water seep in. The crumbled basement floor was removed and replaced by gravel to allow the water to come and go. A basement drying system prevents moisture from building up and causing problems.
While there was some rotted framing and sheathing, the building was structurally sound. The rotted portions were replaced using the original mortise-and-tenon method without nails or spikes. Replica pine siding was then applied.
After five months of work, the building was ready to begin new construction. It would be nearly two years before the owners could spend a night at their new home.
The new part of the home consists of a breezeway that connects a modern kitchen and screened in porch to the original structure. The new part is located to the rear of the original so that the building appears as it did during its active life, when viewed from the road.
The first floor of the original building consists of a living room and guest bedroom and bath. The living room is furnished with the original government furniture that was left in the house. Much of the original pine floors remain and the balance have been replaced with matching pine boards. A wooden stairway winds, inside the tower, from the living room up four stories to the replica lantern. Four flights of wood stairs and all the doors were removed and sent out to be stripped of the twenty or so coats of paint that had been applied over the years.
The second floor has been converted to a master bedroom and modern bath. A clever appointment is located in the master bath where the wall of the tower was been left exposed to reveal the original sheathing and support timber. A small room inside the tower framing serves as an office. An iron weight bucket that was part of the clockwork mechanism is displayed here.
By the time you reach the third floor, the tapering tower has narrowed to an even smaller room that would have served as a watch room and work space for the light keepers. This space has been turned into a small wet bar, where the owners can mix an adult beverage before climbing the last set of stairs to view the sunset from the replica lantern. The gazebo-type lantern is open-air and provides nice views of Lake Erie in all directions.
The finished product, which cost many times the original 1879 cost of $1,900, is a comfortable modern summer home inside a historical structure. Mrs. Westaway smiles and describes it as “like living in a museum”. The project has received recognition as the Most Outstanding Historical Restoration in Ontario, and the same award for all of Canada.
Visitors to the area are reminded that the former light station is private and outlined by a rail fence. Please respect the owner’s privacy.
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