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Lake Champlain, VT

Colchester Reef Lighthouse
Lake Champlain, VT

Colchester Reef lighthouse

Shelburne, Vermont
Built in 1869


The lighthouse is now part of 39 historic structures, most from the 19th century, where many of the authentic original structural components of each structure have been painstakingly disassembled and reconstructed as part of the outdoor Shelburne Museum complex.

Latitude: 44° 33' 32" N
Longitude: 72° 20' 00" W


Historic Stories:

In the mid to late 1800’s, the lumbering trade along Lake Champlain was increasing dramatically. About 7 miles northwest of Burlington, and about a mile out onto the lake there were a small group of dangerous shoals wreaking havoc with mariners. This caused the need for a lighthouse to be built on Colchester Reef. In 1869, the Lighthouse Service ran a national competition for the best lighthouse design, which was awarded to a graduate in engineering from the University of Vermont, Albert Dow. Colchester Reef Lighthouse was completed in 1871, but ran into problems with its foundation from the fierce storms constantly pounding the remote light, and ice jams.

Supplies initially were only brought to the lighthouse once a year without much input from the light keeper. The first Keeper, Herman Malaney, kept receiving, against his wishes, over nine tons of coal each year, which was much more than he would use. He decided to support the local ice fisherman each year as they would look forward to receiving a bag of coal from the keeper each winter to heat their ice shanties.

On a cold day on January 29th, 1888, Keeper Walter Button’s pregnant wife Harriet went into labor. Keeper Button rang the lighthouse bell for a doctor on shore to aid in his wife's delivery, but the ice was two thin to cross and too thick for the local doctor and his assistant to get a boat out to the lighthouse, located over a mile out on the frozen lake. They decided to risk their lives and try to walk out to the lighthouse. When they were about half a mile out, one of the large ice floes they were on broke apart and sent them drifting away from the direction of the lighthouse. The ice floe then began to break apart again causing the doctor and his assistant to jump from ice floe to ice floe to get to the mainland to safety. Luckily they made it about four miles away from their starting point, and as luck would have it, a healthy baby girl was born at the lighthouse without any medical assistance.  

Keeper Button one day found a pair of squirrels on the rocks by the lighthouse, which became tame enough as the family’s pets.

When William Howard was keeper at Colchester Reef Light, he had problems dealing with the solitary existence at the lighthouse and wanted to move closer towards one of the bigger cities. He met another keeper from the New York City area, August Lorenz, who longed for a quiet existence away from the noise and crowds of the city. The two decided to swap jobs.

Lorenz became Colchester Reef’s Keeper in 1909. Lorenz loved the quiet solitude, even though he had various instances of dealing with extreme temperatures.

early image Colchester Reef light

Early Colchester Reef Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard

One time he nearly encased himself in ice from the freezing spray while he was rowing supplies to the lighthouse. He also had to contend with the dangerous ice floes that constantly would bombard the lighthouse foundation.  One ice flow tore a large hole in the kitchen area. Lorenz stayed at the lighthouse for nearly 22 years, until 1931 he was forced to retire at the age of 70.

The lighthouse was retired in 1933, and fell into disrepair over the years. In the early 1950’s it was sold at auction for $50 with the owners planning to use the lumber to build a house on shore. Electra Webb, a wealthy collector of New England artifacts and memorabilia, who also became founder of the now existing Shelburne Museum, heard about the lighthouse and was able to purchase the lighthouse from the owners for $1300.

Webb then had the lighthouse painstakingly disassembled and labeled piece by piece, then reconstructed to its original glory on the grounds of the current Shelburne Museum. Colchester Reef Lighthouse on the museum grounds

Today the Shelburne Museum has 39 buildings including the Colchester Reef Lighthouse where visitors can also tour the inside of the beacon.



Places to Visit Nearby:

The Shelburne Museum is often referred to, as “New England’s Smithsonian” where Colchester Reef Lighthouse is located.
It is an all day affair for visitors to walk around and tour inside the 39 structures on the grounds. Colchester Reef light in park

Most of the buildings and structures represent the 19th century in their architecture and design.

Visitors will also find the famous paddle wheel steamer, the Ticonderoga. Ticonderoga ship

Paddle Wheel Steam Ship

The ship is considered to be America’s last remaining side-paddle-wheel passenger steamer that provided freight and passenger service from 1906 to the early 1950’s.

Ticonderoga ship and Colchester reef light on museum grounds Many of the buildings including Colchester Reef Lighthouse and the Ticonderoga have been painstakingly disassembled, labeled, and then precisely reconstructed to their original states.

The National Museum of the Morgan Horse will educate you about this magnificent animal and its part in our nation’s history.

Shelburne Farms is an interactive and educational 1400-acre working farm for families and children.

Enjoy wine tasting at the Shelburne Vineyard Winery, one of Vermont’s premier vineyards.

Take a factory tour of the largest hand-made manufacturer of Teddy Bears in North America at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.

About 5 miles south of the Shelburn Museum, you can stroll around nearly 6 acres of wildflower gardens at the Vermont Wildflower Farm.




Contact Info:

Shelburne Museum
6000 Shelburne Road
PO Box 10
Shelburne, VT
Phone: (802) 985-3346


Books to Explore

My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, provides lots of stories from each of the 76 lighthouses in the northern coast, along with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special vacation.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and local coastal attractions




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

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 historical accounts of these mighty sailing marvels. You’ll find stories involving competitions, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages.





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