In 1609, Samuel de Champlain
landed at Isle la Motte on Lake Champlain, close to the border
with Quebec. The island became the site of the first French settlement
in Vermont in 1666. The Shrine of Ste. Anne stands today where
the French under Captain Sieur de La Motte built Fort Ste. Anne
The island was attacked by British gunboats in the War
of 1812. The Battle of Plattsburgh ensued, a major American victory
and the largest battle ever on Lake Champlain.
Lake Champlain, bordering New York, Vermont and Quebec, was
once a bustling waterway. The opening of the Champlain Canal
in 1823 meant faster shipping to New York, and navigational aids
There were many private aids to navigation placed
by the shipping companies, but the U.S. Government eventually
realized permanent aids were needed. More than ten lighthouses
were built on the lake in the 19th century, on both the New York
and Vermont sides.
A light was established at Isle La Motte about 1829. This
light was actually a lantern placed in an upper window of a stone
house belonging to Ezra Pike, Jr. The house, seen at left, still
stands and is a private residence.
In 1856, the federal. government paid $50 for a lot of land
previously belonging to John D. Reynolds and John R. McGregor.
A stone pyramid with a lantern was erected. John D. Reynolds, who was a Civil War veteran, served as the first keeper.
There was no house near the beacon, so Reynolds
had to travel a good distance to tend the light. Increased shipping
traffic in the area made a more permanent lighthouse a necessity.
In 1879, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a "better light"
and a keeper's house.
Meanwhile, John D. Reynolds had
died. His son, Elisha R. Reynolds, believed that he had inherited
the property and was quite surprised when workmen arrived and
started building the lighthouse keeper's dwelling. Reynolds made
a claim for compensation, but it was dismissed when the deed
was produced showing that his father had sold the land to the
The present 25-foot cast iron lighthouse was built in 1880
along with the wooden keeper's dwelling. The tower, equipped
with a sixth order Fresnel lens, displayed a fixed white light.
This light was 46 feet above water and its light was visible
for 13 miles.
Wilbur F. Hill was keeper of the old beacon starting in 1871,
and he remained at the new lighthouse station until 1919, serving
48 years as keeper. During his years at Isle la Motte Light,
Keeper Hill received awards for having the best kept station
in the district.
Hill also maintained a 100-acre farm nearby. Wilbur
Hill retired from lighthouse keeping about six weeks before he
The station's final keeper was William Grant, the nephew of Maine lighthouse heroine Abbie Burgess Grant.
|A skeleton tower with an automatic beacon replaced the lighthouse
in 1933. The station was sold into private hands, and the lighthouse
remained dark for nearly 70 years. |
In 1949 the property was bought
by the Clark family from their dentist, who had purchased it
from the Coast Guard.
In 2001 the Coast Guard began looking at the possibility of
reactivating some of Lake Champlain's lighthouses. They worked
closely with Lockwood "Lucky" Clark and his family,
owners of the station, to prepare for a relighting.
- Owners of Isle la Motte Lighthouse:
L to R, Lockwood "Lucky" Clark, his sister Erika Bayer,
Claire Clark, and Rob Clark.
- Lucky Clark made this sign that includes
a replica of the lighthouse
- Isle La Motte Lighthouse on the day
of relighting, October 5, 2002
- Photo by Sue LeFever
On the evening of October 5, 2002, the Isle la Motte Lighthouse
returned to service at dusk. Attendance at the relighting ceremony
was estimated at more than 300.
As the moment of relighting approached, everyone counted down
from ten. Local schoolchildren had the honor of relighting the
lighthouse. The group included Lois Cameron, great-granddaughter
of Keeper Wilbur Hill. As the light came on at 6:18 p.m., a cannon
blazed and Lucky Clark vigorously rang the bell near the lighthouse.
The light station is a private residence and is closed to
the public. The lighthouse, painted orange some years ago, has
faded to a pinkish rose color, or as the locals call it, "Nantucket
Red" or "salmon."
- Unlike most cast-iron lighthouses,
Isle la Motte has no brick lining. Two ladders lead from the
base to the lantern room.
- A view from the top, encompassing
the old skeleton tower.
Keepers: (Thanks to David E. Cook for providing this list in his book The Light-Keepers of Lake Champlain. If
you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to
hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com. Anyone copying
this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list
is always subject to updates and corrections.)
John D. Reynolds (1857-1862); Ezra Pike, Jr. (1862-1871); Wilbur F. Hill (1871-1919); William Grant (1919-1933)