“And o’er them the lighthouse looked lovely as hope,–
That star of life’s tremulous ocean”…from “The Beacon” by Paul Moon James
If you started counting lighthouses on Lake Erie, beginning with the historic structure on Marblehead Peninsula and went totally around Lake Erie you might be surprised to learn that there are 48 of these beacons in the night. There are nearly twenty in Ohio alone.
All lighthouses are of course not equal. Some are automated; sterile modern versions of the sturdy structures that inspired hymns, songs and poems, still others are replicas of long ago lights that guided ships to a safe harbor. Some are retired and sit silent and dark, while others have been put to new work becoming icons and symbols of tourism.
The most prominent of these is the Marblehead Lighthouse, built way back in 1822; it is the oldest continuously operating light on all of the Great Lakes. Originally built of limestone to withstand the crashing waves of Lake Erie at the entrance to Sandusky Bay, it was fifty foot tall. Another fifteen feet was added between 1897 and 1903 bringing it’s total height to 65 feet. The first lighthouse keeper was Revolutionary War Veteran Benajah Wolcott, when he died in 1832, ten years after the light began operating, his wife, Rachel, took over his duties becoming the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.
Today the lighthouse is part of the Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, and beginning in May tours will be available of the historic building. There are also tables for picnics and restrooms available on the grounds.
Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, 110 Lighthouse Drive, Marblehead, Ohio 43440, 419-734-4424, www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/marblehead.htm.
While the Lorain, Ohio Lighthouse is not open for tours on a regular basis; it is still one of the more picturesque guardians of the lake. Built by the Army Corps of Engineers during the First World War, in 1917, it functioned well into the 1960’s before being replaced by a small-automated light on the tip of a newly constructed break wall.
A civic group saved the building from demolition and is working to restore the lighthouse and hope to one day have regular tours of the landmark. They have already painted and fixed up the exterior and installed a wonderful lighting system that illuminates the lighthouse in the evening, making it visible from most areas along the Lorain shoreline.Lorain Lighthouse Foundation, Port of Lorain Foundation, 3721 Oberlin Ave.,Lorain, Ohio, http://www.Lorainlighthouse.com
You can see a modern replica of the 1877 Vermilion, Ohio Lighthouse at the Inland Seas Maritime Museum at the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion. While the replica lighthouse is not open for tours, the museum next door has many exhibits about lighthouses and the boats and ships that sailed the great lakes. It is well worth a visit.
Inland Seas Museum, The Great Lakes Historical Society, 480 Main Street, Vermilion, Ohio 44089, 800-893-1485, www.inlandseas.org
It was an earlier version of the lighthouse at the mouth of the Cleveland Harbor that is said to have inspired composer Philip Bliss in the late 1800’s to write the hymn “Let the lower lights be burning.” The present day lighthouse, built in 1910 is still used as an active lighthouse and is inaccessible to the public.
But in Fairport Harbor you can visit the first Great Lakes Lighthouse Marine Museum in the United States. The Fairport Harbor Light House built in 1825 originally stood 30 feet high. Its size was doubled in 1871 when the tower was rebuilt with a spiral staircase with 69 steps that leads to an observation platform just below the light. The Fairport Harbor Lighthouse was taken out of commission in 1925 when a new combination light and foghorn station was built on the west break wall of the harbor.
Besides the lighthouse the light keepers house serves as a museum and contains many exhibits pertaining to life on the great lakes. Also attached to the museum is the pilothouse from a former Great Lakes carrier the “Frontenac”. Open Memorial Day until September, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and Legal Holidays from 1 PM to 6PM,
Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse, 129 Second Street, Fairport Harbor, Ohio 44077, 440-354-4825, www.ncweb.com/org/fhlh/