Did you know that there are free outdoor concerts every Sunday during the summer months from July 4th weekend through Labor Day weekend in September at the historic Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum? Did you also know that from May through September there are free monthly local history talks on a variety of subjects at Sodus Point? Did you know that the sponsor for these free events — and more — is the Sodus Bay Historical Society?
SBHS was officially chartered in 1979 to preserve, promote and protect the history of Great Sodus Bay. Prior to the formation of SBHS, in 1977 the Sodus Bay Lighthouse was listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. On Jan. 19, 1984, the federal government deeded the old lighthouse and four surrounding acres to the town of Sodus. The building was then leased to SBHS for the purpose of maintaining a maritime museum. The Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum was officially dedicated on July 4, 1985. Following the lighthouse dedication, much more work by many dedicated volunteers took place inside and outside the lighthouse to bring the deteriorating building to a usable condition. The lighthouse museum features exhibits highlighting the cultural, maritime, transportation, commercial and recreational stories that have contributed to the unique history of Great Sodus Bay.
Known popularly over many years as the Old Stone Lighthouse, this second lighthouse structure was completed June 30, 1871, replacing the first Sodus Bay lighthouse built in 1825. Government officials decided the outer pier lighthouse was a better navigation aide, so service from the Old Stone Lighthouse was discontinued in 1901. The Old Stone Lighthouse keeper’s dwelling, however, continued to be used as the lightkeeper’s residence until 1952 when the Coast Guard took over use of the building until 1980. Now, the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum is a cornerstone of Wayne County history, visited each season by over 20,000 visitors.
Over the past 35 years, SBHS has sponsored cultural, social and historical events for the residents of Wayne County. The 2019 season will continue the tradition of these events, opening the season with the Independence Day Extravaganza, which includes a 5-K Run, Breakfast on the Bluff, an arts and crafts show, a kiddie parade and the annual Gap Mangione concert. The summer concert series affords a wonderful opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon enjoying the fresh Lake Ontario breezes, great local and up-and-coming central New York musical groups, a hot dog or sausage, and a good time with family and friends. The ice cream socials, held twice each summer alongside the Sunday concert, provide more time for meeting friends in a festive and refreshing setting, and, most importantly, enjoying a sweet delicious ice cream sundae. The Sunday concerts are a popular event for locals and for folks who travel to Sodus Point from as far away as Ithaca, Syracuse and Rochester, as well as the many summer tourists from around the world who enjoy the afternoon — and the beautiful views of the lake and Chimney Bluffs from the lighthouse lawns and gardens.
In getting ready for the upcoming season, members of SBHS busily prepare the picturesque gardens on the lighthouse grounds. The committee, chaired by Sue Williamson, dedicates considerable time and expertise to the grounds, creating the beautiful gardens that set a backdrop for many of the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum events, including weddings held on the grounds.
During the United Way’s Day of Caring each spring, eager volunteers come to the museum to provide additional assistance with the many grounds projects — repairing benches, fences, spreading mulch, painting, etc. The building and grounds committee chair, Tom Lightfoot, has the immense responsibility of keeping up with all the concerns of the house, garage and grounds, everything from the basement to the top of the lighthouse tower comes under his scrutiny and careful care planning.
As a 148-year-old historic structure listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the lighthouse requires much tender loving care and knowledgeable expertise in historical preservation techniques. Museum director Joe O’Toole has been tremendously instrumental in past years in securing valuable grants that have enabled SBHS to move forward with major building rehabilitation projects like window restoration and porch repair, and collections preservation projects such as painting and photo restoration. Without this additional funding, these important projects relative to the preservation of the lighthouse and its contents would not be possible. In addition to securing the funds to allow these necessary jobs to be accomplished, Joe oversees each of these activities and provides the aesthetic, preservation and historical vision so very important to keeping the structure in line with the guidelines of the National Registry of Historic Places, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.
Volunteers play a crucial role to the ongoing success and viability of the Sodus Bay Lighthouse and SBHS. Volunteer opportunities are many, like individuals to provide tours of the museum, assist with sales in the museum store, assist with concession sales during the Sunday concerts as well as help during the concerts both indoors and outdoors, and gardeners to assure the grounds are at their top condition throughout the summer — just to name a few volunteer opportunities. There is no volunteer effort so small as to not be valuable to the good of the organization. All are welcome, and encouraged to sign on and lend a hand!
Overseeing all this activity is the SBHS board of trustees, headed up by President Sharon Lilla. The SBHS board meets monthly to review and monitor finances, projects, events, committee reports, and more.
If you have not attended a concert or one of the History Alive programs, remember — they are free and open to the public. If you haven’t visited the museum or it has been a while, you may enjoy a visit. The staff members are knowledgeable and very welcoming. You will be sure to learn something new about our Great Sodus Bay! Museum admission is $6 for adults and $3 for students K-12. Preschool children and SBHS members are free. Please call (315) 483-4936 or check the website (sodusbaylighthouse.org) for information on museum hours.
These events for the community would not be possible without the financial support from our event sponsors and historical society members, because SBHS does not receive taxpayer funding for its activities or operating budget of the Lighthouse Museum. If you are not a member or event sponsor, please consider becoming one. Becoming a member can be done online. In the menu, select “Join Us,” scroll down to membership and select the level you would like to join. You may also mail a membership to Sodus Bay Historical Society, P.O. Box 94, Sodus Point, New York, 14555. Be sure to include your name, address and phone number. Annual membership dues $40 for Friends, $80 for contributing. $120 for patron, $300 for sustaining and $1,000 for life membership. The perks to being a member of SBHS: free unlimited museum admission, free subscription to the newsletter, invitations to members-only events and a 10% discount in the Museum Store. Surely the benefits go beyond the perks in knowing that you are part of a special organization, dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich history of our Great Sodus Bay!
Rosa Fox serves as historian for the town of Huron.