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Isle la Motte Light
Isle la Motte, Vermont
Isle la Motte Light main page / History / Bibliography / Photos

History

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 in 1666. 

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.

old photo of light station
stone house

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 needed. 


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.

old photo of lighthouse

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 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.
Clarks

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

people at relighting
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."

interior

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 nelights@gmail.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)

Special thanks to the Clarks and Erika Bayer for their generous hospitality.
Last updated 10/21/10
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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