For hundreds of years, even long before European settlement of the region, the Genesee River has been an important navigation route through Upstate New York.
As settlement along the shores of Lake Ontario increased in the late 18th century, the point where the Genesee met the lake grew in importance as a shipping harbor. In 1822, the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse was built on a bluff overlooking the harbor and the mouth of the Genesee.
Adjacent to the lighthouse, a keeper’s home was built at the same time. In 1863, a second keeper’s house was built, which is the one that currently stands adjacent to the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse today.
In 1881, as the port expanded and piers changed the shape of the river’s mouth, the lighthouse was decommissioned in favor of harbor lights. Over the years, the lighthouse began to deteriorate and area residents were afraid that this local icon would soon disappear.
Eventually, in 1981, the United States decided to sell the lighthouse and home, and it was purchased by Monroe County. In 1984, local high school students constructed a new top for the lighthouse, which is the one you see atop it to this day.
Today, the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse is open seasonally for visitors to enjoy the amazing view from the top. Inside the lighthouse keeper’s house next door, you’ll find a museum that tells the story of the lighthouse as well as the maritime history of the region.
Visits to the lighthouse start in the museum. The museum occupies three rooms on the ground floor of the house with a giftshop occupying a fourth room.
The first room of the museum focuses on the history of the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse and the people that lived and worked there. The second and third rooms of the museum showcase some navigational artifacts as well as highlighting the history of the port and the community surrounding it.
I especially found the display on the amusement park at nearby Ontario Beach Park quite interesting. At one point in time, the park was home to one of the world’s first infant incubators. This medical facility was turned into a tourist attraction at the park, and visitors were charged admission to see the tiny babies undergoing medical care!
Once you’ve had a chance to learn more about the lighthouse and the area surrounding it, it’s time to climb to the top of the tower.
The Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse has a height of 40 feet to the rim and 52 total feet to the very top of the tower. Getting to the top requires climbing a 42-step spiral staircase, followed by a slightly precarious 11-rung ladder into the lamp room at the very top.
Unfortunately, exterior access isn’t allowed, and visitors are kept inside the small room at the top of the lighthouse.
The view from the top spans a full 360-degrees, and you can see not only the harbor but also the mouth of the Genesee River and Lake Ontario. While at the top, guides offer a bit of information about the lighthouse and the area that you can see from it.
The lamp room has a functioning light that is a recreation of the light that was once inside of the lighthouse. While the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse was decommissioned for many years, it is once again an official lighthouse with the Coast Guard.
For those that want to see the view from the top before visiting, or for those that don’t want to climb the lighthouse, there is a webcam at the top that streams online via WeatherBug.
Once back on the ground or while you are waiting to go to the top of the lighthouse, the grounds around it are interesting to explore.
Near the entrance, there is an International Peace Garden that flies the American, Canadian, and British flags. A sign next to each flag tells about the area’s history during the War of 1812.
The land around the lighthouse was the site of a Native American settlement prior to the arrival of Europeans. In 1791, William Hincher arrived at the site after fleeing arrest from his participation in Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. Somewhat ironically, the land would later be home to the town’s first jail cells.
While little of this history can be seen today, it’s still interesting to walk around the grounds and think about the hundreds of years of history that occurred on this spot prior to the building of the lighthouse.
Overall, the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse is a nice stop for those traveling north of Rochester. Not only does a visit here give you a better appreciation for the local history, but the views from the top of the lighthouse can’t be beat.
Note: My visit to the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Want to find out more about the Genesee River? Check out our story about visiting the source of the Genesee in northern PA from our sister site.
Hours: Friday-Sunday: 1p-5p
Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $2
Address: 70 Lighthouse Street
See map below for other area attractions.