Kingsville Rear Range Light
By Wayne S. Sapulski

Note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of the Beacon, the publication of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association.

Kingsville, Ontario is located on the northern shore of Lake Erie about midway between Point Pelee and the mouth of the Detroit River.  Founded as a farming center, Kingsville is the southernmost town in all of Canada.  Kingsville was the preferred vacation spot of distiller Hiram Walker, who built the opulent Mattawas Hotel there in 1889.  In anticipation of attracting others to the area and to promote the hotel, Walker also built a railway line from Windsor to the town in 1888.  Drawn by the lakeís warm, shallow water and sandy beaches, by 1900 Kingsville had become a popular summer playground for Canadian and American tourists.  Kingsville today is home to the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary.  Every fall, tens of thousands of geese stop at the sanctuary to rest before continuing on their migratory route south for the winter.

Work to construct a harbor of refuge at Kingsville near the mouth of Mill Creek was completed in 1886.  According to the History of the Great Lakes, Volume 1 published by J.H. Beers and Co. in 1899, range lights were established at Kingsville in 1886.  Local sources state the range lights were established in January 1889 at a cost of $370.61.  Unfortunately, discrepancies of this type are frequently encountered when researching early lake lights.

The front range light consisted of a lens lantern suspended on a mast 21 feet high from which was displayed a fixed red light at a focal plane of 27 feet above the water.  The mast was set back 10 feet from the outer end of the east breakwater pier.  The rear range tower was located on higher ground of the lake bank at the head of the same eastern breakwater pier at a bearing of 349 degrees and 1,060 feet behind the front light.  It consisted of a square, pyramidal wooden structure measuring 12 by 12 feet at the base and tapering to a lantern deck measuring 5 feet 4inches by 5 feet 4 inches.  The rear tower was clad in cedar shingles, painted white, with an iron lantern painted red.  It stood 29 feet tall overall.  A fixed white light visible at a distance of 12 miles was displayed at a focal plane of 55 feet above water level.  No mention of the original lighting apparatus has been found, but later references were made to a dioptric of the 7th order.  This was likely nothing more than a large lens lantern.

Harbor improvements completed in 1912 necessitated a realignment of the range line for approaching vessels.  To this purpose, the rear range tower was moved from its original location on the east side of the road leading down to the harbor to the west side of the same road.  In 1914 a hand operated fog horn was placed in service at Kingsville.  Given the tiring nature of operating a hand-powered fog horn for long periods, often they were only used to answer the fog signals of approaching vessels.  In 1929 the light in the rear range tower was changed from a 7th order dioptric lens to a short focus reflector.  This was likely a locomotive headlamp of the type then commonly in use on trains.  Locomotive headlamps produced a more intense and focused beam of light than marine lanterns.

Given its small size, location, and the farming community it served, the harbor at Kingsville never became an important commercial port.  The onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s killed off what little traffic remained.  The range at Kingsville was discontinued in 1936 and replaced by a single, acetylene powered light at the outer end of the pier displayed from a Truscan mast.  To complete the harbor discussion, the modern electrically powered range lights currently in use at Kingsville date from 1959.  The range was reestablished in anticipation of increased commerce that was expected with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway the same year.  Kingsville harbor still supports a small but active commercial fishing fleet.  The harbor also boasts a modern passenger terminal for ferry service to Pelee Island and Sandusky, Ohio during the months of August, September and October.

Surprisingly, the abandoned Kingsville Rear Range tower managed to escape demolition.  Nothing from its first twenty years of retirement is known.  By the late 1950s-early 1960s it had been incorporated into someoneís private cottage.  In 1973 it was moved to nearby Lakeside Park and placed on display.  There it continued to suffer from neglect.  By 1991 the tower was severely deteriorated and it was moved again, this time to the grounds of the Kingsville Historical Park, Incorporated (KHPI).  KHPI is a military museum with a large fenced-in area immediately adjacent for the display of larger artifacts.  There in 1993, volunteers started the slow work of exterior restoration and preservation.  This work was completed in 1995.  The weather on Lake Erie varies from stultifying heat and humidity in the summer to sub-zero winter cold, repeated cycles of which (in this case well over 100 years) are very hard on wooden structures.  By 2001, unrelenting dry rot had taken its toll and it became clear the tower would soon crumble without intervention.  The second restoration of the tower, essentially a complete rebuild from the inside out, was completed in September 2003.  The work was aided by a grant of $60,500 from the Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Ministry of Culture.  The plans used for the rebuilt Kingsville Light are on display inside the tower, which now gleams anew.

Access:  At the traffic light on Main Street, turn south on Division Street.  About two blocks north of the lake, turn left (east) into the driveway for the Royal Canadian Legion Hall.  KHPI is  located at the rear of the parking lot behind the Legion building.  Visitors are free to use the Legionís parking lot.  For 2006 visitor hours, contact KHPI by telephone: 519-733-2803 or via email: Khpi@mnsi.net  Website: www.mnsi.net/~khpi/  An admission donation is suggested.

Wayne S. Sapulski is the author of Lighthouses of Lake Michigan, Past and Present, and numerous Beacon articles.

 

Click on images to enlarge

Kingsville Rear Range Light c. 1900


As part of a cottage c. 1966


Reconstruction 1993


1996


2005

Location: Kingsville, Ontario
Date Built: 1886
Active: No.  Inactive museum display.

Open to
public:

Yes. Viewing.

 

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