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 were
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 government.
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
Hill also maintained a 100-acre farm nearby. Wilbur Hill
retired from lighthouse keeping about six weeks before he died.
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.
(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)