Lake Ontario Lighthouses: Sodus, NY

June 18, 2023

Lake Ontario Lighthouses: Sodus, NY

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After our trip to Maine and the lovely lighthouses we saw there, Vance and I started thinking about the lighthouses closer to home. I think we kind of take them for granted, seeing as we live so close to Lake Ontario and they’re kind of just there? I mean, we find ourselves in Oswego a lot, and the West Pierhead Lighthouse is something we see all the time, and we never think about how special it is to live so close to such a piece of history.

So, in search of a family activity for the summer, we decided to visit as many of the Lake Ontario lighthouses (US side) as we can. We started this project several weeks ago with a trip to Sodus, NY and the two lighthouses that they have there.

The first one we visited is known as Big Sodus Light. A little history from their website…

In 1824 Congress appropriated $4,500 to construct a lighthouse tower and keeper’s residence at Sodus Bay.  A year later, Ishmael D. Hill, a veteran of the War of 1812, was appointed as its first keeper. By 1869, both structures had deteriorated to the extent that Congress appropriated $14,000 to build a second lighthouse to replace the original tower.  This second stone lighthouse building, with its attached tower and Fresnel lens, was completed in 1871 and became the residence of Sodus Lighthouse Keepers for the next 80 years.  This same lighthouse is still preserved in excellent condition, and has been run as a Maritime Museum by the Sodus Bay Historical Society in accordance with an agreement and lease from the Town of Sodus since 1984.

Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum

You can tour the inside of the lighthouse, but there is a fee for the tour and I’m cheap, so we just wandered the grounds and took some pictures.


The second lighthouse in town, Outer Sodus Light, is just a short drive away, adjacent to Sodus Point Beach Park. At the end of a 1150-foot pier stands a square pyramidal tower. While Big Sodus Light served as an actual lighthouse, Outer Sodus Light is merely a beacon to aid in navigation into Sodus Bay.

In a few of the photos below, you can see what looks like a red and white target at the base of the tower. Upon further inspection, it turns out that this is actually a ring buoy life preserver. We noticed a few others mounted along the length of the pier, each with a reference to the same person’s name. After a quick trip to Google, it looks like these were installed after a drowning incident in the summer of 2020, in which a young man, Draven Starr-Howell, lost his life saving a teenage girl who was in the water in distress. He was posthumously awarded a Carnegie Medal for acts of extraordinary heroism.

From the Carnegie Hero Commission’s website:

A 14-year-old floating on an inner tube on Lake Ontario on July 2, 2020, was being carried away from shore, and, panicking, she left the inner tube and entered the water with her brother, who was able to swim to safety. The girl was struggling in waves several hundred feet from shore. Draven M. Starr-Howell, a 20-year-old retail clerk of Palmyra, New York, was fishing on the pier, left his personal items on the pier, and then jumped into the water. Meanwhile others, including the girl’s mother and a sheriff’s deputy, entered the water or assisted from the pier and pushed and pulled the girl, who was by then unresponsive, to safety, as well as the mother and the deputy. The girl was hospitalized overnight and recovered. A sheriff’s boat crew, helped by two bystanders, pulled Starr-Howell, who was unresponsive, from the water. He died the next day due to complications of drowning.

My guess is that Starr-Hollow’s family had these life preservers installed in his memory and so that a similar tragedy can be avoided in the future.

Curious where our next lighthouse adventure will take us? Stay tuned!


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