Visits prove power of lighthouse

What location in Chautauqua County – on a beautiful October autumn day last week – can say visitors from California, Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee visited its historic landmark?

If you said the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse, you would be correct.

I made a recent visit during a Tuesday afternoon when volunteer board member David Briska was tied up with tours. Standing on the observation deck of the lighthouse on Oct. 15, visitors could almost see Canada while receiving bits of historic information regarding the region and lighthouse during the tour.

“Six crew members got out of the boat, but the captain and his wife did not because the captain’s wife decided she wanted to go back to the room and get their money,” Briska told the group of six visitors. “So the captain followed her and before they could get off the ship it sank.

“So of course the captain and his wife went down with the ship, which does mean you can take your money with you, you just cannot spend it on anything.”

Briska was talking about the wreck of the Annabelle Wilson barge, which took place in July 1913. Artifacts from the ship are on the lighthouse lands, which are open daily and still gathering visitors.

Yesterdays and Todays columnists Rosamond Gillespie Burns and Mary Burns Deas have done a number of articles highlighting the Dunkirk landmark in recent years. But if you have not been to the site recently, you will be amazed at the extent of the improvements.

It all started with Harold “Dick” Lawson and his wife, Barbara. As caretaker for the facility, Lawson made the lighthouse his life. After his death, the board of directors stepped up to continue Lawson’s legacy.

Each day, inmates of the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Brocton are making repairs, taking care of overgrown brush and weeds while cleaning and painting on the property. If you visit, their efforts will not go unnoticed. The grounds look immaculate.

In addition, visitors, local and international, will find a guest book. As of Thursday, 4,365 people have visited the lighthouse, some from as far away as Europe. That is remarkable when you consider the lack of signage and publicity it receives from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau.

That makes (what Lawson and the board of directors already knew) the Dunkirk Lighthouse a potential gold mine for this area. Consider the potential the lighthouse brings to the region as a tourist attraction if 4,365 people are already visiting it with barely a marketing campaign?

Along the Atlantic Ocean in North Carolina, hundreds to thousands visit historic lighthouses daily. They are highly promoted.

Why not Dunkirk?

There’s still talk about the state Department of Environmental Conservation having a facility on the city waterfront. Though it has not yet come to fruition, if it does happen the city could have two major tourism anchors on top of Lake Erie.

We already get many from Western New York to come to our city for the summer bands and festivals, but the real bucks for the region are in those who come from all over the nation – and world – to see a historic lighthouse.

It is time for Chautauqua County, its Visitors Bureau and the city to step up. The county can do it by offering bed tax funds, the bureau can do it by spotlighting the lighthouse on its cover and the city can help with more signs to direct tourists to the lighthouse.

Those tourists, we add, are already coming – with very limited promotion. Just think what the numbers could be if it was marketed as the gem that it is on the waterfront?

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to or call 366-3000, ext. 401.