Setting sail for regional and local destinations

It’s 518 miles long and full of interesting sights to see along its paths and roads. Hugging the Great Lake shores of Erie and Ontario from Erie, Pa., through Rochester, and on to the Saint Lawrence River, there are destinations to suit one’s curiosity of history, architecture, shopping, vineyards and wineries, wildlife, recreation, and parks. Of course, all of these one-of-a-kind picturesque places are along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. With finer weather and summer quickly approaching, visiting any number of these attractions throughout the next few months is time well spent. Promoting tourism and economic development, a travel magazine is published each year detailing many events and locations with more information on the website www.seawaytrail.com.

Residents of Chautauqua County need not go far to a number of the destinations with the northern end of the county on the Seaway Trail. Of the thirty lighthouses on the 518-mile stretch ranging in age from 1818 to 1938, two are in the county with the Barcelona Lighthouse in Westfield and the Historic Dunkirk Lighthouse in Dunkirk. Even though Dunkirk’s lighthouse is listed as 1875, the first structure from 1826 and Barcelona’s from 1829, make them both among the older lights on the trail. What is unique about Dunkirk is that according to the US Lighthouse Society, it houses a “Fresnel” lens in its tower, which is one of two in New York state, of 16 left on the Great Lakes and of 70 in the country. Purchased from France in 1857 for $10,000, it would be well over a million and a half dollars to replace today. What also makes the Dunkirk Lighthouse unique is not just that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is also a museum dedicated to veterans.

With the official name, “The Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum,” the grounds and buildings include more than 60 flagpoles, a tank, several memorials including two for local men of the Civil War, anchors and hundreds of other maritime relics, rooms dedicated to each branch of the military with artifacts from the War of 1812 to the present, and of course, the home itself is furnished as it was when inhabited by lighthouse keepers and their families. A treasure trove in each room, several were highlighted last summer and fall through a “virtual tour” in this column. “Echoes from the lighthouse tower,” “Everyday cooking long ago,” “Put through the wringer,” “The iceman cometh,” “Got water,” “Can you hear me now,” “Not sew easy,” “Toasty memories,” and “A history of dolls” were some of the stories told about what life was like long ago and how it is depicted at the museum. What’s amazing is that this series of columns covered only the first floor and did not even venture upstairs yet to the military rooms with finds such as original photos of Marilyn Monroe in Korea, German helmets, knives, bayonets, a machine gun, tire sandals from Vietnam, and countless other finds.

Although closed for the winter, work never really ceases at the museum. Constant care both within the building and on the grounds is ongoing to improve it and keep this a treasure to be enjoyed now and in the future. Fencing and the break wall have to be monitored. Part of the wall did break away in 2010, revealing some of the original foundation of the first lighthouse tower from 1826. There are plans to repair the roof and replace it with slate and restore the original shutters. Inside work this winter included improving the living room. Paint and window treatments were made possible from a grant provided by Lake Shore Savings of Dunkirk and new carpet was graciously donated by Kathy’s Carpet and Flooring also of Dunkirk.

Come and enjoy the lighthouse and museum any time in the upcoming weeks. Although it is local and at our own doorstep, the visitor’s log of several thousand people shows many enjoy this gem along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail from distant points of every state, Europe, and Asia. Whatever your interests, the lighthouse offers a step back into time to see and feel what life was like long ago in addition to the maritime and military history. People book weddings on the beautiful grounds and ghost tours are common. In fact, anyone who spends a great deal of time there gets to know these paranormal friends quite well, some even by name. They are not too shy about letting themselves sometimes be known to the casual visitor as well. The official opening is May 1st. Hours are 10-2 daily May through June, 10-4 in July and August, and back to 10-2 in September and October. Visitors can walk the grounds free of charge. Admission to the museum is $8 per adult and $3 per child. More information can be found at www.dunkirklighthouse.com.

Make it a good week and make your summer plans.

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