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Burlington Breakwater Lighthouses
Lake Champlain, VT

Burlington Breakwater North lighthouse

Burlington Breakwater North Lighthouse

Burlington, Vermont
Built in 1857


Lighthouses are located at both ends of the breakwater along Burlington Harbor. Both are best viewed from one of the many tour boats out of the harbor.

Latitude: 42° 28' 50" N
Longitude: 73° 13' 48" W


Historic Stories:

With the completion of the Champlain Canal which connected the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. Burlington became the third largest port for lumber shipping coming mainly from Canada. With the increased shipping trade, came the need for a breakwater to protect mariners from the constant weather changes and storms. A 1,000 foot breakwater was completed in 1854, and gradually was extended as the waterfront continued to grow. By the late 1800’s, it had grown to nearly 4200 feet long. Wooden lighthouses were first placed on both ends of the breakwater in 1857, and in 1890 a lighthouse was also placed in the middle of the breakwater.

Over the years, the wooden structures could not survive the constant elements of strong winds, ice, and even fires.

In 1870, the northern lighthouse burned to the ground, and in 1876 a fierce storm knocked over the southern light.

early image Burlington North light

Early Burlington
North Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard

The Rescue of the General Butler

In 1875, a keeper’s dwelling was built on the breakwater, but being so close to the waterfront, the keepers simply stayed ashore and would row out to the lighthouse.  The keeper’s house remained unoccupied for nearly ten years before it was auctioned off and moved ashore.

There are also shipwrecks near both ends of the breakwater. On December 9, 1876 during a fierce storm, the 80-foot schooner, the General Butler, crashed into the breakwater. The ship’s captain was able to get his passengers and crew to safety on the breakwater. The local lighthouse Keeper, James Wakefield and his son, saw the incident and were able to rescue everyone using a rowboat to bring them ashore. The wreck of the General Butler is now a State of Vermont Underwater Historic Preserve.

early image Burlington South light

Early Burlington
South Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard

There are marker buoys at the both ends of the shipwreck, which is located on the near the southern portion of the breakwater.

For more details of this event, select the "General Butler Rescue" link above, which will take you to my Lighthouse Stories section. Select the "Vermont's Famous Keeper" Blog, to learn more about Keeper James Wakefield.


Near the north end of the Burlington Breakwater, the Burlington Bay Horse Ferry, believed to be the only known surviving example of a turntable “team-boat”, sank during a fierce storm. Its wreck is frequently explored by divers.

Both north and middle wooden lights were rebuilt using steel in 1925, and the south light was replaced with steel in 1950. After years of using only ugly skeletal towers, funding was raised primarily with the help of Senator Patrick Leahy, and the north and south towers were rebuilt to their original structures from old photos along with additional reconstruction of the breakwater.

Both lighthouses were rebuilt to withstand the weather elements that destroyed the earlier versions while keeping the original structural pleasing designs intact.

In 2003, both the north and south lights were reactivated. both Burlington Breakwater lights



Places to Visit Nearby:

Burlington is Vermont’s largest city that offers plenty of activities, events, specialty shops, restaurants, artists galleries, museums, and places to hike and bike around the area.

The Church Street Marketplace is Burlington’s hub of activity with entertainment, festivals, historical architecture, and plenty of places to shop or eat in the area.

Artists provide sculpture statues of teddy bears for the famous Vermont Teddy Bear Company. teddy bear statue on Church Street in Burlington

There are also lots of painted cow statues for not only dairy farmers, but also Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, world famous.

Burlington’s Waterfront Park provides opportunities to see the Burlington Breakwater lighthouses from the shore, walk along the boardwalk, or take boats out around the harbor and Lake Champlain. The waterfront also has access to the Waterfront Bike Path, and a festival site, which is host to a number of major events throughout the year.

Explore the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to learn about Lake Champlain's history through hands-on exhibits, shipwreck discoveries, and viewing full scale replicas of the ships that navigated these waters. They also offer shipwreck tours, like the General Butler, and exhibit artifacts from the wreckage of many ships as well. This is a one stop for visitors who want to learn most everything regarding marine life of the area and Lake Champlain's maritime history.

Burlington Harbor Burlington's Waterfront Bike Path is a nearly 8-mile recreational route that runs along the shoreline of Lake Champlain.

North Beach is located at the end of Institute Road off of North Avenue right off the Burlington Bike Path for picnicking and swimming.

The rocky coastal shoreline just outside of busy Burlington Harbor is a popular place for kayaking. kayakers in Burlington Harbor

Explore 70 species of animals and lots of exhibits at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center.

Learn about Vermont’s hero at the Ethan Allan Museum.

The Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts features five floors of contemporary art.

For one of Vermont’s great specialty foods attractions, visit the Dakin Farm for free samples and exhibits.

The Island Line Trail brochure leads cyclists from Burlington, Vermont to the Champlain Islands along the old Rutland Railroad.

For the best chocolates take a factory tour and taste gourmet chocolates from Lake Champlain Chocolates.

The Horsford Gardens and Nursery display beautiful floral gardens, some heirloom plants dating back to the 1800’s.

If you’re interested in crossing Lake Champlain at four different points to access the New York side, as well as the Vermont side of Lake Champlain from NY, take one of the Lake Champlain ferries below:

Lake Champlain is comprised of many tiny and larger islands making this area a boater’s paradise. sunset over island on Lake Champlain

There are many islands that are private and some you can stop over and visit of have a picnic. If you don’t have your own boat, one boat, the Spirit Of Ethan Allen III is a 424-passenger ship that goes past Juniper Island lighthouse and the Burlington Breakwater lighthouses on their Scenic Narrated Cruises, which take you around Burlington’s Lake Champlain islands.

tour boat passes Burlington Breakwater South light

Spirit of Ethan Allan III
Passes Burlington Breakwater
South Light

These cruises are offered 4 times a day during the summer season.

From the city attractions of Burlington as you head northward you are greeted with very rural communities of locals who love the simpler life.

This rural area provides plenty of picturesque views of farmlands, forests, and wetlands. hanging clothes in fresh outdoors
You'll also find Lake Champlain's largest islands with plenty of smaller ones in between for those that enjoy camping, boating, fishing and hiking. There are many biking and hiking trails groomed for locals and visitors alike to enjoy this quiet scenery. These trails are also used in the winter by cross country skiers and snowmobilers.




Contact Info:

US Coast Guard, Burlington Station
Depot Street
Burlington, VT 05401-5226
Tel: (802) 951-6792
Fax: (802) 951-6793

boat passes by Burlington North Light

Burlington Breakwater
North Light


Local Boat Tours and Ferries For Visitors

Boat cruises and ferries mentioned below may offer many types of cruises. While some may offer specific lighthouse cruises, some will pass by specific lighthouses as part of charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, ferrying passengers, fishing tours and other types of excursions. Weather is also a major factor in New England, especially on sailing excursions.

Spirit of Ethan Allan III
Provides all kinds of dinner and event cruises. Lighthouses can be viewed on the Scenic Narrated Cruise.
348 Flynn Ave., Burlington, VT 05401

Phone: 802-862-8300 • FAX: 802-860-2261


Lake Champlain Ferries
Ferry from Burlington to Port Kent NY passes by the Burlington North Breakwater lighthouse.
King Street Dock, Burlington, Vermont 05401
Phone (802) 864-9804


The Whistling Man Schooner
Sails around Burlington Harbor, or private charter for up to a full day sail.
1 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401
Telephone: (802) 598-6504



book of the rise and demise of the largest coal schooners

To order a signed paperback copy:

Available also from bookstores in paperback, hardcover, and as an eBook for all devices.

my ebook on apple books

New Book!

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships: Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England

In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid positive social and political changes. They were the ten original six-masted schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies.

This book, with plenty of color and traditional images, provides adventurous historical accounts of these mighty sailing marvels.

Click for larger video here.




My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, published by Schiffer Publishing, provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses in these 3 states, like the story about the rescue of the General Butler, along with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special trips.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and local coastal attractions





New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales

This image-rich book contains over 50 stories of famous shipwrecks and rescues around New England lighthouses, and also tales of hauntings.

There are more details and imagery provided in stories of the life and legacy of Keeper James Wakefield and his rescue of the General Butler.

You'll find this book and my lighthouse tourism books from the publisher Schiffer Books, or in many fine bookstores like Barnes and Noble.




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