U.S. Coast Guard Group Buffalo is located at the head of the Niagara River and the eastern end of Lake Erie. Group Buffalo provides search and rescue, law enforcement, aids-to-navigation, recreational boating safety, marine environmental response, and ice operations services to the public. Its area of responsibility includes Lake Erie from Fairport, Ohio, to Buffalo, New York, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, the Erie Canal, and the St. Lawrence Seaway to Massena, New York.
With a long history of service on the Great Lakes, the group directs 185 active duty members, 102 reserve members, 750 auxiliarists, and controls 25 multi-mission boats. The group provides operational, logistical, engineering and administrative support for 10 multi-mission stations and one aids-to-navigation team. Station Buffalo, Aids-to-Navigation Team Buffalo, Electronics Support Detachment Buffalo, and Marine Safety Office Buffalo are all tenant commands on the 30-acre property. The group staff has 39 active-duty billets including gunner's mate, health services technician, machinery technicians, quartermaster, store keeper, telecommunications specialist, yeoman, and non-rated personnel.
In 1810, Congress appropriated money for construction of a lighthouse at Buffalo. Work was delayed by the War of 1812, because some significant battles were being fought nearby. For example, on December 29th and 30th, 1813, British troops and Mohawk Indians crossed the Niagara River to burn the entire village of Buffalo, then populated by about 1000 people, a small town of small wooden buildings. After the British departed, the village was immediately reoccupied by the prior residents and reconstruction began. Construction of a lighthouse began in 1818 and, on November 1st of that year, the first lighthouse on the Great Lakes went into operation. The first lighthouse stood near the position of the present Buffalo Lighthouse. It was a stone tower, thirty feet in height, but smoke from early Buffalo industry rendered it ineffective, obscuring the light intended to safely guide vessels into Buffalo's expanding port. A new lighthouse was constructed in 1833 and this is the structure which still stands today. The Buffalo Lighthouse is a cut stone tower mounted with a glass lantern. The lens, a third-order dioptic Fresnel lens, magnified the light supplied by three petroleum wicks into an illuminating beam. Oil for the wicks was supplied by compressed air. The lamp assembly stood 76 feet above the water. Quarters for the lighthouse personnel were constructed in 1899. This lighthouse was used until 1914 when a new lighthouse depot with tower and living quarters for the keeper was erected at the north entrance breakwater. The lens from the older structure was mounted in the new lighthouse.
The first lifeboat rescue station in Buffalo was constructed in 1877 by the Lifesaving Service. At that time, the crew numbered eight and was commanded by Captain Greisser. A major disaster in the early days of the Coast Guard ancestor organizations in Buffalo was the disappearance of the Waverly Shoals Lightship No. 82 from her station 13 miles southwest of Buffalo during a severe storm in 1913. The Lightship was originally believed to be off station due to the storm, but later when pieces of wreckage were found washed ashore, it was presumed to be lost with all hands. In May 1914, a U.S. survey ship equipped with sweeping apparatus located the lightship in 63 feet of water, two miles from her station. Lightship No. 82 was raised and floated into Buffalo Harbor in September 1914.
After passage of the Volstead Prohibition Act in 1919, America's "Noble Experiment" brought an increased workload to the Coast Guard in Buffalo. During Prohibition, there was a lively liquor smuggling trade across Lake Erie and the Niagara River from Canada. Ten 36-foot "picket boats" were stationed in Buffalo in an attempt to quell the illegal traffic, but these patrol craft proved too slow for the speedy vessels used by smugglers on the lake, and the 36-footers were transferred to Galveston, Texas, where rum-runners were using slower smuggling vessels on the Gulf of Mexico. Faster patrol craft were moved to Buffalo to replace the picket boats augmenting the two 75-foot patrol boats that were stationed here. These 75-foot patrol boats, commonly called "six-bitters," were armed with machine guns and a one-pound, rapidfire gun in addition to the usual small arms.
In 1933 and 1934, major renovation of the Buffalo Group included construction of new moorings and a retaining wall. Coast Guard boats and cutters at Buffalo were now able to moor in this protected area rather than in the Buffalo River. When the Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard on July 1, 1939, Mr. Roscoe House was superintendent of the 10th Lighthouse District, headquartered in Buffalo. His area of responsibility included of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. Prior to the merger, the post prohibition Buffalo station had a rather small complement of personnel for search and rescue, law enforcement, and repair and carpentry work for the Ninth Coast Guard District. Consolidation with the Lighthouse Service boosted the number in the crew, reflecting the additional responsibilities.
On April 15, 1941, due to increasing demand for Coast Guard recruits brought on by the war in the Atlantic, the first Coast Guard recruiting office in Buffalo was opened sending recruits to New York City or Baltimore where six weeks of intense training produced apprentice seamen for cutters on the Atlantic. During the war, the receiving, training, and fitting programs for recruits, as well as increased security and patrol work, boosted Group Buffalo's crew size to 1,400, including many SPARs. Coast Guard personnel from Group Buffalo distinguished themselves in both theatres of action during the war, returning home with decorations for action in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, and Guadalcanal.
In the 1950's, renovation of the moorings included removal of a segment of the seawall and construction of another portion resulting in the moorings of today, with one entrance from the North. In the 1960's, the old station's main building was torn down and the present administration building was erected. Renovation of other base buildings was also completed.
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