A lighthouse, a beach and a waterfall, all in the same place? Right in Western New York? Absolutely! Deep in the middle of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, not far from where the first Welch's plant was built in nearby Westfield, is Barcelona. Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Barcelona features a lighthouse that was constructed in 1828, which will likely be the first thing you notice. The lighthouse is owned by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and has a tourism office located in the old lighthouse keeper's house, but the lighthouse itself is not open to visitors due to structural issues. However, you can enjoy scenic views of the lighthouse itself and enjoy a nice picnic lunch with the lighthouse as the backdrop.
Some history on the Barcelona Lighthouse, or the Portland Harbor Lighthouse as it was originally known. In 1828, the United States Congress appropriated $5,000 to construct a lighthouse at Portland Harbor, which had just been designated an official port of entry. Portland was a small town located 20 miles west of Dunkirk, New York and 33 miles east of Erie, Pennsylvania and would later change its name to Barcelona. During the early 1800s, warehouses and wharves had been established in Portland to serve the small vessels transporting lumber, salt, flour, and fish to and from the port. The harbor provided a safe haven for sail and steam cargo vessels and a rest spot for passengers traveling between Erie and Buffalo. From Portland Harbor, portage was also available to Chautauqua Lake and on to the Allegheny River, for traffic on route to Pittsburgh.
A lot on a bluff overlooking Portland harbor was purchased from Wilhelm Willink, Wilhelm Willink the younger, and Cornelius Vallenhoven on July 10, 1828 for $50. In August 1828, a $2,700 contract for constructing the lighthouse and a dwelling for the lighthouse keeper was awarded to Judge Thomas B. Campbell. Using native, rough-split, fieldstone, Campbell constructed a 40 foot conical tower with a base diameter of 22 feet. Out of the $5,000 that had been appropriated, only $3,506.78 was used for construction, and the remaining money was carried over to the surplus fund.
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1855 noted that Barcelona did not possess a proper harbor and that its lighthouse was not necessary even as a "lake coast light." This remark was likely due to the Great Gale of 1844, which destroyed a number of lakeside warehouses and wharves, including those located in Barcelona. Local officials had tried to restore the port to its former importance after that storm, but the opening of a railroad to nearby Westfield in 1852 doomed this effort. In, the Lighthouse Board discontinued Barcelona Lighthouse, citing as a reason the "mutations of commerce and changes of channels or harbors", certainly as a reference to the Great Gale of 1844. According to a clause in the original deed, the lighthouse property was to revert to the Holland Land Company if operation of the lighthouse was to become discontinued.
Though a light is still maintained in the tower, the Barcelona Lighthouse is no longer considered an aid to navigation. The tower and dwelling were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In 2008, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation acquired the lighthouse..
The parking area near the lighthouse is also public access to a pier. For those who enjoy fishing or kayaking, this is where you can enjoy those sorts of activities. During my 2009 visit to Barcelona, I checked out the Sea Lion, which is a replica of a late 16th Century English three masted sailing ship. However, I did not check that out during my visit in 2017 since the Sea Lion has since been moved to the Henricus Historical Park in Chester, Virginia, but I spotted an old barge out in the middle of Barcelona Harbor. The Sea Lion has its own Facebook page that has a collection of photos and stories about the old sailing vessel.
From the parking area, you also have access to the beach. One of my visits to Barcelona was on Memorial Day, so even though it was a weekend where I spent more time hiking and chasing waterfalls, walking along the beach and dipping my toes into Lake Erie was certainly enjoyable. Speaking of chasing waterfalls, I accomplished that while in Barcelona too.
A short walk down the beach (about 1/4 mile or so) will get you to 18 foot tall Barcelona Falls, as well as some intermittent falls that pop up after a heavy rainfall. It had poured the night before, so it was a bonus for me. The waterfall is unique in the fact that it drains right into Lake Erie at the bottom of the waterfall. However, this part of the lake shore has its fair share of cliffs, so it's certainly worth taking note of that as well.
|Barcelona Lighthouse. You can see the picnic area to your left.|
|An old barge. I forget the name of this vessel.|
|Beach and cliffs.|
|An intermittent waterfall located further down the shore.|
|Looking west towards the beach.|
How to Get There:
Sources and Links:
Western New York Waterfall Survey - Barcelona Falls
LighthouseFriends.com - Barcelona (Portland Harbor) Lighthouse
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation - Barcelona Lighthouse
Westfield Republican - Sea Lion Moved to Historical Park
January 9, 2018 - Originally published to Unlocking New York
December 25, 2021 - Post moved from Unlocking New York to Gribblenation