Charlotte-Genesee Light
By Thomas E. M. Moriarty
Tom Connor

In 1805 the US government created the Port of Genesee, where the Genesee River emptied into Lake Ontario, just north of present day Rochester, NY. The port was surrounded by marshy, low lying areas, and a sand bar at the head of the river, thus requiring the need for a lighthouse.

In 1822, the US government purchased 3.25 acres of land from Mehitable Hincher for $400, one of the original settlers of the land, in an effort to create a lighthouse. During the next year the lighthouse structure itself and a keeper’s dwelling was erected at the site for a total cost of $3,301. The original tower was simple, and made of Medina sandstone, a material that is mined in a small town about 40 miles west of Rochester. Forty feet tall, with a simple staircase made of wood, the light was illuminated with five Argand lamps, on each of two semicircular shelves covering an arc of about 160 degrees. The Winslow Lewis-patent lamps, utilizing whale oil as a burning source, were aimed at an arrangement of reflectors to aim the beam. Although only 40-feet tall, the tower is located on a bluff about 40 above Lake Ontario providing a light from 8 feet above the lake.

The first Light keeper; named David Denman lived in the rustic two room keeper’s dwelling right next to the light. He passed away shortly after being appointed to his position and Giles Holden became his successor, and is by some considered to be the original keeper.

The years of 1852 and 1853 were quite busy for the light, as many renovations occurred during this time. The first order of business was to replace the Argand Oil lamps with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens in 1852. Also this year, the wooden stairs were replaced with a spiral iron staircase, which is intact today. Also during this time period, the government created a pier jutting out into the lake and erected a smaller light on the end. In the late summer of 1853, while attempting to reach the light at the end of the pier to illuminate it, then keeper, Samuel Phillips was unable to reach the end due to a storm and rough weather. When a local neighbor, and ex-keeper, Cuyler Cook volunteered to row him out in his boat to light the fires, he gladly accepted. However, the roughness of mighty Lake Ontario took yet another life that August day, when waves capsized Cook’s boat and he drowned while Phillips was lighting the fires. This seems to show the camaraderie and dedication early light keepers had for not only their responsibilities, but each other as well.

In 1863 the original keeper’s house was replaced with the present one, constructed of red colored brick. It had a hall like passage that attached the house to the light tower, making it easier for the keeper to tend to his duties, especially during inclement weather. Presently, the passageway no longer exists.

In 1881 the Lighthouse Board decided that the light at the tower location should be taken out of service and it was deactivated later that year. The river would still need a marker and the lantern and lens would be moved to the west pier of the Genesee River at its mouth.

The dwelling was still used by lighthouse personnel until it was turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. George Codding was the last lighthouse keeper under the U.S. Lighthouse Service. He started his tenure in 1913 and retiring in 1939 when the light was turned over to the coast guard.

While there were 14 lighthouse keepers at this location from 1822 to 1939, there was only one while under the control of the U.S. Coast Guard. Wilbur Folwell Sr. started as an assistant keeper under George Codding in 1933 and managed the station from 1940 to 1947. It was at this time that the decision was made to automate the light and making the job of keeper no longer necessary. At the time, the dwelling became the Commander of the USCG station at Charlotte’s residence.

In 1981, 159 years after the lighthouse came to be at Charlotte, it was declared surplus property by the U.S. Government. After two years of trying to acquire the site, the newly formed Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Historical Society received the property in 1983 and began to restore it.

Thanks to the restoration and continued efforts of this group, the grounds can be visited daily and the structures can be toured on summer weekends. In 1991 the site was given to the society with a 20 year lease.

The light is the second oldest in the U.S. and the oldest government building in the county of Monroe.

Click on images to enlarge

2012 photo by Steven Palermo

Photograph by Dick Wicklund

2009 photos by Dave Wobser


Location: Charlotte, New York
Date Built: 1822, 1863
Active: No

Open to


Maintained by the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Society
Open May 1 till the  end of November,  Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, 1 5 p.m.  Other times by appointment.  Regular admission fees:  $3.00-18 years and older; Free under 18; Free for Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Society members.  Call
(585) 621-6179 or email:  or visit their web site at for more information.
Grounds are open daily.
Lake Shore Blvd. to Lake Avenue, head North on Lake Avenue. At Holy Cross Church, take a right onto Latta Road, and then a left onto Lighthouse Street.

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