When the end is really not the end

All good things must come to an end. But who says so?

That often used proverb usually means nothing lasts forever. In other words, enjoy the here and now. Find your happiness today because it may not exist tomorrow. What makes you happy now is only temporary. Perhaps that is so, if you listen to all the doom sayers.

Just as my Tuesday Tour series on lighthouses Papa and I have visited came to a conclusion last week, it’s not a closure with finality. I’m hopeful my posts provided a nice distraction from all that’s taken place in our world in the last several months. I know ‘revisiting’ all of those beautiful spots provided a source of happiness for me.

Hopefully, Papa and I will once more hit the road on our empty nest travels and when we do, we will enjoy good things like lighthouses again. In the meantime, we still continue our day trips here and there within driving range of our country home.

This past fall as we drove northward to catch sight of some fall foliage, we found a spot, just by happenstance, we’ve never seen before or even heard of – Peace Park on Lighthouse Island, a privately owned 20+ acre island located along the Allegheny River in Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

My mind couldn’t believe what my eyes beheld as I spied this little hidden gem while we were driving along. A lighthouse! An inland lighthouse, which isn’t a navigational aid to water vessels, located approximately 60 miles away from the only real shoreline Pennsylvania has along Lake Erie? Come again?

Of course, we had to find our way there so I could stop to snap a photo. And when we located the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse, an illuminated 55-foot tall lighthouse 16 feet in diameter, we also were pleasantly surprised to find it situated on a lovely park named Peace Park.

Sherman Memorial Lighthouse was erected as a family memorial by a local Tionesta resident, Jack Sherman. The tower was completed in 2004 and 76 stairs inside it join seven floors. On each floor, Mr. Sherman displays items pertaining to his family’s heritage and his collection of lighthouse art and miniatures.

Even though the park is privately owned, it is open to the public but to tour the lighthouse’s interior, you must either arrange for a private group tour appointment (donation asked) or visit when it is open to the public a few times a year during the local Lions Club fundraisers.

When we visited the lighthouse was closed, but we could still stroll the park grounds which has a one-mile walking trail.  Other attractions located in the park are a Freedom Cross, representative of the Cross of Lorraine, a two-barred cross with a vertical line crossed by two shorter horizontal bars; a Statue of Liberty replica; a Veteran’s Memorial honoring those who served our country in all branches of the armed forces; and a small chapel, which is provided for visitors to spend time in prayer and reflection.

As we entered Peace Park, naturally my eyes were on the lighthouse, but after arriving, we noticed a blue welcome sign. A dove with an olive branch, Prince of Peace and Angel of Love statues, and two angels of hope and joy are featured on the sign. Perfect thoughts for entering not only the park but this Christmas season as well.

As we departed, the other side of the sign proclaimed let there be peace on earth.

We all wish for peace on earth, don’t we? Especially when this holiday arrives. But on a night over 2000 years ago, peace DID come to earth. His name is Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

“No God, no peace; know God, know peace.” ~ Croft M. Pentz

And by knowing Him, really KNOWING Him, not just knowing of Him in your mind, but knowing Him in your heart, you can call Him your Savior, your Friend, your Peace on Earth.

That more people would come to truly know Jesus – that’s my peace on earth Christmas wish this year.

“Christ alone can bring lasting peace – peace with God – peace among men and nations – and peace within our hearts.” ~ Billy Graham

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: Sea, what sea?

Some folks say the end is the best part of any story. The Tuesday Tour of lighthouses is complete for now, at least until Papa and I can embark once again on our empty nest travels. As I’ve promised in earlier posts, I believe I have saved the best for last in this series.

When you view the photo below, you may think I’m off my rocker.  But hang on, this one is just the sidekick of a more spectacular one. I almost missed catching a glimpse of Ram Island Ledge Light, an unobtrusive and almost forlorn looking tower, located about a mile offshore from a more famous lighthouse on the coast of Maine.

This particular navigation aid was erected first as an iron spindle in 1855 to mark dangerous ledges near the entrance of the Portland harbor, and later became a 50-foot wooden tripod.

Shipwrecks abounded in the area for many years and when a large transatlantic steamer ran aground during a snowstorm in 1900, the necessity of a lighthouse there became most apparent. Construction began on Ram Island in 1903 and completed the next year, but the 90-foot tall tower was first illuminated in January 1905 with a fog bell added later that year.  Keepers lived inside the tower for two weeks at a time working 12-hour shifts daily and then were granted one week shore leave.

By 1959, keepers no longer were required since the light became automated and on 2001, it was converted to solar power. Eventually, this light tower was placed on the auction block and a private owner purchased it simply because he wanted to preserve this historic place.

Ram Island Ledge Light might be lone and forgotten possibly because it’s almost hidden in the shadows of a famous lighthouse, actually New England’s most visited, photographed, and painted landmark – Portland Head Lighthouse.

Situated in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on the dramatic coastline, Portland Head is rich in history since it is Maine’s oldest lighthouse dating back to 1791 and is noted as the first lighthouse completed by the U.S. government. When we visited in early summer 2017, it didn’t take long to realize this is a popular sightseeing destination.

Cape Elizabeth’s history can be traced back to Revolutionary War times when, in 1776, the newly established town posted soldiers at Portland Head in order to warn of British attacks and protect the harbor. By 1787, partial funding was provided to build a lighthouse there and three years later, the U.S. Congress added enough funds to complete the construction of a 72-foot tower and a small keeper’s dwelling. President George Washington requested that local rubble stone be used to build the lighthouse itself.  

Illuminated by 16 whale oil lamps, Portland Head was first lit on January 10, 1791 after its dedication by none other than Marquis de Lafayette. A Revolutionary War veteran, appointed by President Washington, became the first lighthouse keeper there. His salary? The right to live in the keeper’s dwelling, fish, and farm in the area. Finally, after two difficult years, the keeper received $160 per year. 

Winter was perilous at Portland Head especially when the trek from the keeper’s dwelling to the lighthouse was steep, rocky, and frozen when ocean waves washed over it. By 1816, a new two-story keeper’s quarters was built and part of the former structure was joined to the tower.

During the Civil War era, the tower was elevated another 20 feet after a 295-foot ship wrecked taking 40 lives into the sea with it. Later, on Christmas Eve in 1886, yet another sea vessel crashed at Portland Head. When the lighthouse keepers heard the impact, they formed a gangway with a ladder set between the rocky ledge and the shore and rescued all 14 people on board.

The peculiar aspect of that shipwreck was that visibility was good that night and the ship’s crew stated they saw the Portland Light clearly. So what caused the ship to strike a ledge and be lodged against it?  

Yet more unusual occurrences happened at this famous lighthouse. As the wife of one keeper sat knitting in a chair next to a window one evening, their dog began growling so ferociously, she got up and moved to another area. Immediately afterwards, an enormous wave crashed into the keeper’s dwelling, breaking the window and blowing glass shards over the chair where she had sat.  

Visitors to the lighthouse roamed freely about sometimes startling the keepers and their families. In the 1950’s, a woman entered the house, sat at the kitchen table, and declared that the keeper and his wife serve her since they were government employees.

And in the 1960’s, keepers’ families learned that downstairs doors and windows should be locked at all times after tourists with cameras barged into the bathroom in the keepers’ home and caught a coastguardsman’s wife in the tub.

After the lighthouse was automated, an apartment in the keeper’s dwelling was rented and several occupants over the years reported a feeling that they weren’t alone there. One couple said a motion-detector alarm often went off when no one was there at night. Other residents thought there was a spectral presence in the basement but felt it was a friendly ghost who “just needed to be told that his keeper days were over and he could rest in peace.”

One keeper named Joshua Strout is noted as Maine’s oldest keeper. At 79 years old, he retired in 1904 after being Portland Head’s light keeper for 35 years and had served 17 of those years without any time off.  Strout’s son Joseph became head keeper serving until 1928. His career at the light station was over 50 years.

Another interesting story about Portland Head Light is that a very famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, became a frequent visitor there. It’s highly suspected that he was inspired by this lighthouse to pen his poem entitled The Lighthouse.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,

Year after year, through all the silent night,

Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,

Shines on that inextinguishable light!

– excerpt from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Lighthouse

That inextinguishable light actually was extinguished though from June 1942 to June 1945 in order to prevent aid to German submarines.  During World War II, unauthorized visitors were also forbidden there.

During its long service, Portland Head Light was first the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Treasury from 1790-1852 when the U.S. Lighthouse Board took over management. By 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard became responsible for navigational aids including Portland Head. In 1989, the lighthouse was decommissioned and the town of Cape Elizabeth now owns and manages it with the U.S. Coast Guard still controlling the light and fog signal.

We first viewed Portland Head from adjacent Fort Williams Park, where visitors can utilize picnic areas, go hiking, engage in sports and recreational activities, and enjoy beautiful ocean viewpoints from its 90+ acres. When visiting the lighthouse itself, the public also can tour an award-winning museum in the former lighthouse keeper’s quarters as well as a gift shop.

In my estimation, Portland Head Light is one of the most beautiful lighthouses we’ve viewed thus far. I fell head over heels for this lighthouse (although not literally because that would have been a disastrous fall!) and took more photos of it than any other. I just couldn’t stop taking pictures, as you can tell from this post, and I thought every picture this amateur photographer captured looked amazing.

“Once the lighthouse is seen, the rest of the sea is ignored.” ~ Terri Guillemets

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: casting light into darkness

More often than not when we think of a lighthouse, we think of a structure emitting a light out into the darkness in order to safely guide sea travelers on their way.

For me, my faith serves as a lighthouse, guiding me through dangers amidst the darkness that often envelopes this world. And that faith I cling to shines ever so brightly even in difficult times like these.

I once read that Christian songwriter/musician Chris Tomlin said this: “When I write songs, I try to write in a way to reach as many people as I can, to be a lighthouse versus a flashlight.”

In the pitch black of night with a raging storm tossing a vessel about on wild waves of the sea, a flashlight certainly wouldn’t do much good to light the way to safety. A lighthouse is needed and that is certainly true on the dangerous, rocky coast of Maine.

One of the most dramatic lighthouses Papa and I have viewed on our empty nest travels is Cape Neddick Lighthouse, also known as the Nubble Light, located in Soiher Park, York, Maine.

The lighthouse itself is situated on a rocky cliff called a nub of land between the dangerous shoal York Ledge and Stone’s Rock and is separated from the mainland by a channel of water. When this lighthouse was still manned by light keepers, travel to it required rowing over the channel in a boat.

Beginning back in 1807, sailors requested a lighthouse be erected there but over 70 years passed before the 41-foot conical tower was constructed and finally illuminated in 1879.  The first keepers of the light and its surrounding buildings were those serving in the Lighthouse Service.

Those duties were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, when this light was officially named Cape Neddick Light Station, and continued until it became automated in 1987.   

Like so many other lighthouses, several tales and legends are associated with it. One legend involves the shipwreck of the vessel Isidore in 1842. Prior to its last sailing, one of the ship’s sailors dreamed that he saw seven coffins lined up onshore and heard a voice proclaiming one of those would be his. 

Yet another crewmember also dreamed about the shipwreck and decided to hide until the vessel departed. Lo and behold, seven bodies washed ashore in the Isidore’s debris and some folks claim the ghost ship and its crew can be seen sailing past the lighthouse.

A hefty, 20-pound tomcat is the focus of another tale. When the keeper-owner of the feline was assigned elsewhere, he left the cat there. The next keeper was shocked to see the tomcat, who had eaten all the mice on the island, paddling over the channel to the mainland one day and returning with a fat mouse in his mouth.  From then on, visitors enjoyed seeing the cat and his notoriety for swimming was reported in local newspapers.

Cape Neddick became a popular tourist attraction and some keepers earned extra cash by rowing visitors back and forth between the island and mainland by boat. Some were fired because catering to visitors interfered with their lighthouse duties.

All supplies the keeper’s family needed had to be transported across the channel from the rocky mainland, so a basket was suspended on a line running from the mainland to the island – a trolley of sorts. Keepers would reel in their provisions that way and rely on this method when they couldn’t get off the island in inclement weather.

That supply basket became notorious in 1967 when an AP photographer published a photo, which subsequently was printed across the country, of a coastguardsman working the pulleys of the basket over the channel. What caused the uproar was that the basket contained the man’s seven-year-old son who was being sent off to school that way.

The Coast Guard promptly ruled that no families with school age children would be posted to the light station ever again. Prior to that, parents with young children feared for their offspring because of the dangerous ledges surrounding the lighthouse and it was reported that they tied little ones to either a post or the lighthouse ladder to keep them from wandering off and meeting tragedy on the rocky cliffs.

When Cape Neddick became automated, the town of York stepped up to adopt the preservation and maintenance of the lighthouse, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the light and fog horn as an active navigational aid.

Visitors can view this stunning lighthouse from Sohier Park, land donated to York by the Sohier-Davis family; a Welcome Center with a nice gift shop is located on the park grounds.  

It’s estimated that half a million visitors view Cape Neddick Light each year, and a large crowd gathers every November to witness an annual “Lighting of the Nubble.” All of the buildings on the island are decorated with festive Christmas lights and illuminated for the season during that event.

Cape Neddick Lighthouse surely does let its light shine – even making the Christmas holiday a glimmering one. But its light has extended beyond mere earth. In 1977, the probe Voyager II  was launched into space with various materials aboard to teach any extraterrestrials out there about planet Earth.

What was included in the collection? A digitized image of Cape Neddick Lighthouse, the Nubble Light.

Might this lighthouse someday guide a spaceship to earth? Who knows?!

“What does a lighthouse do? I ask myself. It never moves. It cannot hike up its rocky skirt and dash into the ocean to rescue the foundering ship. It cannot calm the waters or clear the shoals. It can only cast light into the darkness. It can only point the way. Yet, through one lighthouse, you guide many ships. Show this old lighthouse the way.” ~ Lisa Wingate

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: history and mystery

They weren’t easy to find.

On our empty nest road trip to New England in 2018, one of our quests was to locate some lighthouses on the coast of Maine, which didn’t prove to be a simple task because some of the beacons aren’t easily reached or are inaccessible by car.

After a few wrong turns and scratching our heads, we reached success when we discovered Owls Head Lighthouse near Rockland, Maine and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland.

On that June day, we actually were the only people at Owls Head Light Station. Pulling into the parking lot near the structure in Owls Head Light State Park, we were surprised to find no other visitors and that our vehicle was the lone one there.

Peace and quiet accompanied us on a short walk through a wooded area to this picturesque lighthouse sitting on top of an 80-foot bluff above Penobscot Bay. Both history and mystery surround this beacon.

Construction for the original station was approved by President John Quincy Adams in 1824 and the original, 15-foot tall, stone lighthouse was established in 1825.

Even though that tower was relatively short, because of its location on the rocky bluff, the beacon could be seen for 16 miles. The first lighthouse keeper, a War of 1812 veteran, earned an annual salary of $350. By 1852, that structure had deteriorated so a new, 24-foot tall, brick tower was built with a new keeper’s dwelling added two years later.

Tending the lighthouse was risky business as the tower was situated 120 feet up a steep ascent from the keeper’s home. Winter was especially treacherous and finally in 1874, walkways and stairs linked the keeper’s house with the beacon.

Two fascinating tales exist about Owls Head including a story of two people frozen in ice who came back to life and a dog who rang the fog bell.  During a raging December 1820 storm, a small schooner set anchor at the onset of the storm and the captain went ashore leaving three others on board.

As the storm worsened, the vessel was ripped from its mooring and smashed into rocks near the lighthouse after which the boat’s mate attempted to go ashore for help.

The lighthouse keeper found and revived the mate, but the man begged the keeper to rescue his fiancée and a fellow crewman who were still on the wrecked schooner. When a search party recovered the two people, they reportedly were encased in an ice block formed from the water’s spray in freezing cold temperatures.

Even though it seemed they were deceased, hours-long efforts to chip off the ice, place the man and woman in cold water, and massage their legs and arms continued. Miraculously, both were revived.

And then there is the tale of Spot the dog, a springer spaniel owned by an Owls Head keeper during the 1930’s-40’s. The keeper’s daughters apparently taught the dog to ring the fog bell by tugging on the rope and whenever a boat passed by, the dog rang the bell with the ship returning the sound by bell or horn. Sounds like a perfect example of Pavlov’s conditioning experiment with dogs, doesn’t it?

But Spot’s “trick” actually saved someone’s life. Spot became friends with a mail boat skipper who always brought the dog a treat. Spot soon learned to recognize the boat’s engine sound and knew when his friend was arriving.

When a blizzard hit, Owls Head’s fog bell was muffled by snow drifts. During the snow storm, Spot scratched at the keeper’s door to be let out, sped to the shoreline, and barked repeatedly and loudly. The mail boat captain heard his canine friend, replied with the boat’s whistle, and later claimed he was saved from disaster because he was able to determine his location thanks to Spot.  

In addition to its history, some mystery swirls around Owls Head Lighthouse as well. Named first on a most haunted lighthouse list,  some claim there are at least two ghosts there – a female who has been “seen” in the kitchen or looking out a window and another who some believe is a former keeper’s spirit.

The later just may have climbed into bed with a Coast Guard keeper’s wife one night. She distinctly felt what she thought was her husband crawling back into bed after he gone outside to check something.

When she questioned him and received no response, she rolled over to find no one there yet an indentation in the mattress appeared to be moving. Her husband, who had not yet returned to the bedroom, claimed he saw “a cloud of smoke hovering over the floor” which passed through him.

Yet another ghostly tale is that of a Coast Guardsman’s two-year-old daughter who described seeing a bearded man wearing a blue coat and seaman’s cap, yet no such person had ever been there.

Still others report that unexplained footprints, leading in only one direction to the tower after rain or a snowfall, appear and strangely enough, brass is found polished and the lens cleaned in the lighthouse afterwards.

Fact or fiction? Who knows, but we found this lighthouse, automated in 1989 and still an active navigational aid today, intriguing. We managed to climb the 52 steps up to the lighthouse where we found the view simply amazing.

Owls Head Lighthouse and the keeper’s dwelling now is licensed to the American Lighthouse Foundation. The foundation, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, restored the tower to its original 1852 appearance.   

Only open on selected days, the lighthouse was closed when we visited, but the grounds were open. Currently due to the pandemic, lighthouse climbing tours have been suspended until further notice.

The 1854 keeper’s dwelling still stands on the site and serves as the American Lighthouse Foundation headquarters. According to the non-profit’s website, that organization is responsible for restoration and preservation of 18 lighthouses.

From Owls Head, we headed south to Portland, Maine and our next lighthouse stop proved to be a bit of a challenge.  After several wrong turns and a bit of exasperation, we finally located Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, which actually sits on a breakwater connecting it to the Southern Maine Community College campus.

Because of its location, it’s not only difficult to find but parking is very limited when the college is in session. We found that to be so. Papa finally just pulled alongside a curb temporarily and I jumped out of the car and jaunted quickly to a vantage point to capture a photo of this distinct lighthouse that kind of looks like a spark plug.

Since we were apprehensive about the parking situation and didn’t want to incur a fine, we weren’t able to walk out onto the breakwater to see this caisson-style lighthouse closely. Out of 49 such types of lighthouses in the United States, Spring Point Ledge is the only one visitors actually can walk to.

Constructed in 1897 and first illuminated in May of that year, this lighthouse was erected in the Portland Harbor to mark a ledge projecting from the shoreline at South Portland’s Fort Preble and extending into the main shipping channel of the harbor. Several significant shipwrecks and groundings occurred due to this dangerous area in one of the busiest harbors on the east coast.

Despite the need for it, Spring Point Ledge Light was darkened for about three months in 1898 during the peak of the Spanish American War, resuming illumination once again in late July of that year.

After sustaining years of damage from ice, granite blocks were placed around it for protection in the 1930’s. The 950-foot granite breakwater connecting the lighthouse with the shore was constructed by the Corps of Engineers in 1951.

The U.S. Coast Guard automated Spring Point Ledge Light in 1960 and nearly 40 years later, ownership was transferred to the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust. Responsibility for the lighthouse’s functions as a navigational aid is retained by the Coast Guard.

The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Normally, visitors could explore the inside of the working lighthouse on Saturdays and Sundays, but tours are now closed due to the pandemic.   

Two more visits to Maine’s lighthouses followed after this one. I’ve saved what I think are the best for the last couple of posts yet to come. I hope my readers continue joining me on my Tuesday Tours to view photos of those remaining sites.  I believe they are the cream of the crop.

“We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.” ~  Dwight L. Moody

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: Road trip lights

We love road trips.

I know many folks prefer plane travel when the destination is several hundred or thousand miles away. But for us, a road trip is far more pleasant. You can take your time. You can stop wherever and whenever you like. You can traverse along the scenic route, not just the most direct one.

A couple of years ago, we traveled by car to New England, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. After days and various stops in Vermont and New Hampshire, we arrived in Maine.

We were anxious to drive along the Atlantic Ocean coast of that state, especially in Acadia National Park, and compare it to our memories of the Pacific coastline of Oregon.

We certainly weren’t disappointed and we located a number of lighthouses for me to photograph, although this trip was completed prior to our acquiring our trusty U.S. lighthouses map and guide. The unique Egg Rock Light, located in Frenchman’s Bay, was one of those.

Since it is situated out in the water, I had to resort to using a telephoto lens to attempt a capture, and I don’t think it’s a great photo. The surrounding scenery though was gorgeous.

However, you can ascertain from it that this lighthouse is a square, brick tower extending out of a square keeper’s dwelling. The second building there is the fog station.

Egg Rock Light was constructed in 1875 but was automated in 1976 by the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, it still is an active navigation aid managed by the Coast Guard and flashes red every 40 seconds.

An interesting historical tidbit is how Egg Rock got its name – an abundance of birds’ eggs could be collected on the island, but seabirds abandoned the island after the lighthouse was built. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, today the site is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is not open to the public.

Our next lighthouse stop within Acadia National Park was more spectacular – Bass Harbor Head Light.  Located on Mount Desert Island in Tremont, Maine, this cliff-side brick light marks the entrance to Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay.

Although there are well over 60 lighthouses in Maine, not many of them are accessible by driving vehicles but Bass Harbor Head Light Station is one of them. Normally the parking lot is free and the grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset. Now, of course, covid-19 restrictions apply.

After arriving there, we followed a path that led us to the tower and a viewing area where the harbor and distant islands could be observed.  We viewed the bell, now outside the tower, and plaques detailing the lighthouse’s history on the grounds. Neither the tower itself nor the keeper’s house is open to the public.  

For the brave at heart and fit in body, you can also take a path leading to a stairway down the cliff, but one has to keep in mind that there are no safety devices on the boulders below and the Maine coast is a rough one with many loose stones and slippery places.

The stairway back up to the lighthouse is also very steep. We chose only to go part way, although now I realize it would have provided a more dramatic photograph from the ocean side of the lighthouse had we ventured to the bottom.

Standing 56 feet above water, Bass Harbor Light was erected in 1858 with a fog bell and tower added in 1876. An even larger bell weighing in around 4,000 pounds was later installed in the 32-foot tower itself.  Electrified in 1949 and then automated in 1974, this light can be seen 13 nautical miles.

Even though the land upon which the lighthouse sits belongs to Acadia National Park, just this year, the light station was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Park Service. Rights to operate and maintain this navigational aid is still retained by the Coast Guard.

Bass Harbor Head Light Station’s claim to fame is that it is the fifth most popular site in Acadia National Park. An estimated 180,000 people visit it every year. It has also been featured on the America the Beautiful quarter minted in 2012 and appeared on a 2016 postage stamp depicting the National Park Service’s centennial.

Someday I’m hoping Papa and I can take more long distance road trips once again. And when we do, I’d like to go back to that rugged coast of Maine and beyond into our next-door neighbor country Canada to catch a glimpse of more lighthouses.

Like the vital rudder of a ship, we have been provided a way to determine the direction we travel. The lighthouse of the Lord beckons to all as we sail the seas of life. Our home port is the celestial kingdom of God. Our purpose is to steer an undeviating course in that direction. A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder—never likely to reach home port. To us comes the signal: Chart your course, set your sail, position your rudder, and proceed.” ~  Thomas S. Monson

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: Guiding light in autumn

It won’t come to you as a surprise.

If you’ve been a reader of Mama’s Empty Nest for very long, you are probably quite aware that autumn is my very favorite season of all.

Oh, I like winter enough when it snows and is frosty outside. Spring rates as my second favorite season because finally color bursts forth across the landscape. Summer? Blech. I only tolerate those months of the year when it’s not hot and humid and that doesn’t happen very often in my neck of the woods.

Since Papa and I entered the empty nest stage of life well over a decade ago when our last offspring headed off to college life, we’ve enjoyed taking vacations in the fall. And now that we’re retired, traveling during that season suits us even more. The weather is usually very pleasant and sightseeing spots are far less crowded.

Our trip to Michigan last year was no different except that we encountered much colder weather than we expected. But even though we had to find a retailer to purchase winter hats and gloves to stay warm, we relished in our sightseeing – especially all of the lighthouses we visited in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We spent a day enjoying snow flurries while touring that area with our trusty lighthouse map/guide specifically to find a couple of lighthouses. Our day trip ended in Sault Ste. Marie shivering in rapidly falling temperatures at sunset to watch a ship proceed through the locks there, which is one of the most heavily used commercial shipping canals in the world.

Prior to that though, we traveled along the shoreline of the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, to Point Iroquois Light 20 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie.

The area known as Point Iroquois was named by the Ojibwa for the Iroquois war party who invaded the area in an attempt to dominate the fur trade but were defeated in a massacre in 1662. The name used by the Ojibwa in their native language meant “place of Iroquois bones.”

After French explorers arrived in the area, the point became a notable landmark, especially once Sault Ste. Marie was established as a settlement. By the mid 1800’s, copper and iron ore were discovered in the area resulting in the need for a passage for ore-carrying vessels to safely travel and the “Soo Locks” was built.

Because of the increased volume of water traffic leaving and approaching the locks and the very hazardous weather conditions in the area, the addition of lighthouses along Lake Superior became apparent. 

Construction of Point Iroquois Light Station, which would serve to guide ships through a narrow channel between shallow sand bars and shoals off the point and rocky reefs on the Canadian side of Whitefish Bay, commenced in 1854 and was completed the next year. The light was emitted for the first time in September 1857.

The original lighthouse consisted of a cylindrical 45-foot wooden tower with a detached one-and-a-half story stone dwelling for the keeper’s quarters. Years later, both structures were in poor condition, so construction began on a new 65-foot brick tower and eight-room keeper’s home in 1870, which still stand today.

When a fog signal was added to the station, another keeper was required, so an addition to the keeper’s home was added in 1905 to provide more living space.

After 107 years of service, Point Iroquois Lighthouse became deactivated in 1963 when it was replaced by the automated Gros Cap Point Light in Canada. The lantern room’s Fresnel lens was removed, shipped to Washington, DC’s Smithsonian Institute, and the lighthouse property deemed excess. In 1965, the U.S. Forest Service assumed responsibility for the property.

Ten years later, the light station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and during the 1980’s, Bay Mills-Brimley Historical Research Society joined the forest service in restoring the lighthouse and creating a museum and gift shop in the keeper’s dwelling.

Despite the navigational light and fog horn aid Point Iroquois provided in its many years of service, occasionally ships still wrecked in the passage. Such an event occurred in 1919 during a November lake storm.

The steamer Myron sunk in the freezing lake and 16 of the crew lost their lives. The light keeper at the time found their bodies washed ashore and had to transport them to a nearby town undertaker. Reportedly, the undertaker paid $10 apiece for “floaters.”

Treacherous winter weather also took its toll when the keeper and assistant took a team of horses out on the ice to either fish or gather ice blocks to store in the ice house.

On more than one occasion, horses broke through the ice because of soft spots where warm springs bubbled up. During one such episode, the horses became so frightened that they thrashed around and unfortunately sank into the icy lake to their deaths.

Those are just some of the stories about the light keepers and their families visitors learn about when viewing exhibits at this light station’s museum.

The lantern room is open to the public and you can climb the 72 steps of the circular iron stairway to reach it. Papa and I accomplished that and were rewarded with an amazing view of Lake Superior, particularly beautiful in autumn.

We peeked into the assistant light keeper’s apartment which has been restored to reflect how it looked during the 1950’s. We thoroughly delighted in a short walk along a wooded boardwalk path to a cobblestone beach where we gained different perspectives of the lighthouse amid the fall foliage. 

Currently during this pandemic, the Point Iroquois Lighthouse is closed. However, visitors can still stroll the boardwalk and grounds there.

I sincerely hope my readers are finding the stories of all of these lighthouses I highlight on my Tuesday Tour posts as fascinating as I am. Each lighthouse has a different story to tell just as each has a purpose for existing.

And isn’t that just like us as human beings? We each have a story, we each have a purpose, and sometimes, our purpose is to tell our stories to help someone else.

Just like a guiding lighthouse.

“ …what he told himself on those sea-soaked nights…Others joined in and it was discovered that every light had a story-no, every light was a story. And the flashes themselves were the stories going out over the waves, as markers and guides and comfort and warning.” ~ Jeanette Winterson in  Lighthousekeeping

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: Whitefish Point Lighthouse

Today is November 10th – a day of remembrance at the lighthouse featured in my Tuesday Tour.

Last year, Papa and I traveled to Michigan and visited various sites around two of the Great Lakes there. On a downright cold and blustery October day, we located the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior.

Whitefish Point Light is considered to be the most important such structure on this Great Lake because all ships either entering or departing Lake Superior pass by this lighthouse.

Its location in Whitefish Bay on the southern shore of the lake is considered a treacherous spot earning it the nickname, “Graveyard of the Great Lakes.” Out of 550 known significant shipwrecks lying on the lake’s bottom, around 200 are in the Whitefish Point area, more than any other part of Lake Superior.

Thirty-some years before the placement of this lighthouse, a 60-foot trading ship named Invincible became the first known ship to sail on Lake Superior and it sunk in fierce winds and overwhelming waves.

The need for a lighthouse here became very apparent in the following years as ship traffic increased. Whitefish Point Light first became illuminated in 1849, marking the end of an 80-mile stretch of lake shoreline known as Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast and the entrance to Whitefish Bay. A four-room, one-and-a-half story stone keeper’s dwelling was attached to the 42-foot stone tower in this isolated location and retaining keepers there was difficult.

Constantly barraged by wind and weather by 1861, Whitefish Point Light was replaced by an 80-foot tall steel cylinder, supported by skeletal steel framework and designed to reduce the stress of high winds.  Fog signals were added and by 1894, a second assistant keeper was necessary to continue guiding mariners through turbulent waters there.  

The sheer force and duration of violent storms on Lake Superior have been compared to that of a hurricane. When sudden and treacherous winds build up over the deep lake’s many miles of open water, massive waves, often coming from several different directions, slam into ships with great intensity.

One such storm occurred in 1905 and is noted as the worst ever on the Great Lakes. During a combination of snow, wind, freezing cold, and violent waves, the temperature plunged to 12°F below zero. The after storm tally was 30 shipwrecks with some vessels actually thrown out of the lake’s water.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service operated this light station from 1849 until the U.S. Coast Guard instituted a Lifeboat Rescue Station there in 1923. Several changes transpired in the following years and in 1930, both the fog signal and a radio beacon signal were synchronized to help mariners determine their distance from Whitefish Point and guide them safely through the area.

The Lighthouse Service united with the Coast Guard in 1939; the lifeboat station was closed in the early 1950’s, and all Coast Guard personnel removed in 1970 after the light house became automated. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

But the Whitefish Point Lighthouse was still very much needed. It has guided vessels for over 170 years, and continues to do so, except for one horrendously stormy night.  

It was November 10, 1975 – 45 years ago today – when the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald struggled against extremely hazardous weather conditions as it attempted to make its way towards Whitefish Bay.

An assortment of failures accompanied this fated vessel. Its radar system had been damaged and the tempestuous lake was taking its toll. The ship’s captain, who was a 44-year veteran sailor, reported: “We are taking heavy seas over our decks; it’s the worst sea I’ve ever been in.”

And then the unthinkable happened. The automated radio beacon at Whitefish Point suddenly switched off providing no guiding light and the raging storm overtook the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Around 7:15 that night, the 729-foot ore freighter and a crew of 29 souls perished into the deep, cold lake.  The wreck lies offshore about 15 miles northwest of this lighthouse.

If you are of a certain age like me, you’ll well remember a song written, composed, and recorded in 1976 by Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot called, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It’s a long song, but you can listen to it and read the lyrics in the video below.

Every year on this date, a public memorial service is held at Whitefish Point Light in remembrance of the Edmund Fitzgerald crew. The ship’s actual bell, which was recovered from the shipwreck site in 1995, is rung 30 times, once for every crew member and once again for all sailors who have been lost at sea.

It’s fascinating to note that Lake Superior’s water is so cold it preserves shipwrecks quite well and scuba divers at the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve can enjoy 30-50 feet of visibility even at 100-foot depth.

Actually, a group of divers called the Great Lakes Shipwreck History Society researched shipwrecks in this area and consequently, opened the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on the Whitefish Point Light Station grounds in the 1980’s.

Owning the site, this society restored the keeper’s quarters, lighthouse, fog signal building, and all the structures associated with both the Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard Lifeboat Station.

Both the lighthouse and the museum are normally open from May 1-October 31 daily, 10 a.m-6 p.m. An admission fee is charged to visit the lighthouse itself and the museum, but there is no charge to walk around the grounds, visit the gift shop, or stroll on the beach, where a memorial monument to the Edmund Fitzgerald is located.

When we visited, the wind was ferocious and the cold air quite piercing that October day, but there were visitors on the grounds and on the beach.

Today, this anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, I consider this thought – that freighter foundered and went down into that cold, deep lake and those men lost their lives in the midst of a terrible storm.

Yet they were only 15 miles from a lighthouse.

There are many of our fellow human beings drowning while they’re caught in a whirlwind of violent storms in life. Are we reaching out to them, extending a light that may rescue them from harm’s way, guiding them to a place of security and well-being? Or are we allowing them to sink into despair, fear, and anxiety?

Maybe I am a lighthouse and so are you.

“Don’t forget that maybe you are the lighthouse in someone’s storm.” ~ Unknown

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Tuesday Tour: Strait lights of hope

We’ve been drifting out here in a sea of gloom for many months now. Some might even be in the grips of despair. Turmoil, uncertainty, chaos, and fear swirl around us.

It’s hard not to lose hope that at some point life will resume some normalcy. But we cannot surrender to the negative. Instead we must hang on with hope and cling to the light it provides.

In my own small way, by highlighting the lighthouses Papa and I have visited during our empty nest travels, my desire is to provide a spark of light in a dark world, to transport us to places where light  prevailed to guide those in the darkness.

A year ago, Papa and I journeyed to Michigan with specific places to see in mind – one of those being Mackinac Island. On our ferry ride from the mainland into one of the Great Lakes – Lake Huron – we caught a glimpse of two lighthouses.

Located in the Round Island Channel of the Straits of Mackinac, one is named the Round Island Passage Light and the other is simply called Round Island Light. Both are distinctly different.

Because it was a direct shipping route between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, the narrow (less than a mile) passage between Round Island and Mackinac Island marking that hazardous area containing dangerous reefs became necessary.

Construction on the Round Island Light, also known as the Old Round Island Point Lighthouse, began in 1894. An interesting fact about this two-and-a-half story structure resembling an old-fashioned schoolhouse, is that a man named Frank Rounds was hired to build it. He had worked on Mackinac Island’s famous Grand Hotel, a luxurious resort that is still a popular site today.

The light emitted its first signal in May 1896 as a fixed white light, interrupted by a red flash every 20 seconds. A fog signal was added in October of that year which sounded a five-second blast each minute when needed.

By 1948 though, Round Island Light became unattended when a new tower, Round Island Passage, located just off Mackinac Island began operating. Decommissioned in the mid 1950’s, the Round Island Light became property of the Hiawatha National Forest.

A storm damaged the structure significantly in 1972 and one Mackinac Island summer resident spearheaded a campaign to save it with assistance from the Mackinac Island Historical Society, the U.S. Coast Guard, and others. Repairs were accomplished and the Round Island Lighthouse was named on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Almost 20 years later, restoration was once again needed. This time a Michigan Boy Scout troop, along with the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, stepped up to make repairs. The scouts continued to take care of the lighthouse.

In celebration of its 100th centennial in 1996, Round Island Light once again began operating as a private navigational aid, emitting two white flashes every 10 seconds. Currently, the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society works to provide restoration work for this historic landmark.

Just 1000 feet off Mackinac Island, construction commenced on a distinctly different beacon called Round Island Passage Light after World War 2 and it began operating in 1948. Instead of resident keepers, however, U.S. Coast Guard personnel manning the station on Mackinac Island remotely controlled the lighthouse by using a submarine channel from onshore.

A distinguishing feature of the 120 foot tower is ornamental – bronze Native American heads, commemorating the Great Lakes regional tribes who lived in that area and considered Mackinac Island a sacred place.

This automated and unmanned lighthouse was deemed unnecessary by 2013 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places the same year.

After touring Mackinac Island and the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (more of those lighthouses to come in future posts), we crossed the famous Mackinac Bridge into Mackinaw City and managed to visit two more area lighthouses.

Just off the south side of the huge suspension bridge we stopped at Mackinaw Point which marks the junction of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

There we found the Old Mackinac Point Light Station, completed in 1889 to mark the narrowest section of the Straits of Mackinac, and operated from 1890 until 1957.

The station consisted of a cylindrical brick tower and lighthouse keeper’s two-story dwelling, which actually was two separate houses under one roof joined by an access lobby. The keeper’s dwelling was also constructed of brick with limestone trim and a bright red, tin roof.

By 1957, the Mackinac Bridge was completed and since lights on the suspension structure were very adequate to mark the straits in this area, Old Mackinac Point Light Station was no longer needed as an active navigational aid.

Purchased by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1960, the station became a part of Michilmackinac State Park, was restored and opened 12 years later as a point of interest in Michilmackinac Maritime Park.  But time, money, and dwindling public attendance caused the light station to close in 1990.

Again fundraisers came to a lighthouse’s rescue when enough money was raised to restore and reopen Old Mackinac Point to the public just six years later. Interestingly enough, one of the key leaders in the fundraising campaign was a gentleman named Jim Belisle and he was the great-grandson of the man who built the station.

When we visited there, the grounds were open, but the light station itself was closed. However, it remains quite the sightseeing spot since climbing the tower provides a spectacular view of the Straits of Mackinac. Currently the lighthouse is closed and according to its website, a tentative reopening is scheduled for the 2021 season in May.

Using our trusty lighthouse map and guide, we located another nearby lighthouse that was constructed to serve as a navigational aid through the Straits of Mackinac. Located about three miles west of Fort Michilimackinac, another historic spot worthy of visiting, McGulpin Point Light is noted for being the oldest surviving lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac.

Operation at this light house began in 1869 but only continued until 1906 in McGulpin Point. The point itself was named for a British army officer named John McGulpin who once served at nearby Fort Michilmackinac.

Standing over 700 feet from the shore of Lake Michigan, one might wonder how this light truly served as a navigational aid for sailors passing between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan because this lighthouse is now surrounded by dense trees.

But if you climb to the top of the tower which is situated on a hill, you’ll see a sprawling view of the straits. The tower, which is only 40 feet tall, is set diagonally into a corner of a one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling, which now houses a gift shop.

McGulpin Point was almost decommissioned as an aid to navigation in 1889 because construction had begun on Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and confusing discussion ensued about having two lighthouses so near to one another. However, it was determined that both lights would “best serve” lake navigation in that area.

But by 1906, McGulpin Point’s operation was terminated and the property sold. Nearly 100 years later, the property owners at the time placed the lighthouse and adjoining land for sale. It didn’t sell until 2009 when Emmet County Commissioners purchased it and prepared it for public view.

In May of that year, McGulpin Point Lighthouse was re-lit in a ceremony that included Native American drummers and an invocation by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians tribal chairman, Frank Ettawageshik, according to Lighthousefriends.com.

Navigating in the darkness through treacherous waters, whether it be along the coasts of a Great Lake or a great ocean, is dangerous. That’s why lighthouses existed – to offer a beacon of hope for safety.

Perhaps envisioning or simply viewing photos of lighthouses offers us a symbol of hope during this challenging time in our world. I can only hope.

“At some time, often when we least expect it, we all have to face overwhelming challenges. When the unthinkable happens, the lighthouse is hope. Once we find it, we must cling to it with absolute determination. When we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may have never known- the power to make sacrifices, to endure, to heal, and to love. Once we choose hope, everything is possible.” ~ Christopher Reeve

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Tuesday Tour: Lake Erie lights 2

It’s an old adage but it’s true – what a difference a year makes. Pandemic restrictions curtailed our empty nest travels this year.

But one year ago this month (October 2019), Papa and I embarked on a road trip driving through the state next door to our final destination – Michigan, a state we’d only visited by changing flights in the Detroit airport.

Along the way, we opted for a blue highway route along the southern edge of Lake Erie in Ohio. And with our trusty lighthouse treasure map, we found three such structures to visit.

We first stopped at lovely park to eat a picnic lunch and catch a scenic view of the Lorain Harbor Lighthouse, also known as Lorain West Breakwater,  located in Lake Erie, a half mile off the town Lorain’s shore. 

Dubbed “The Jewel of the Port,” this lighthouse is open for public tours and also for private events, but can only be accessed by boat. When we stopped to catch sight of it, I used a telephoto lens to capture pictures.

Some interesting tidbits about this beacon is that it originated in the early 1800s from a simple lantern hanging on a pole at the mouth of the Black River. By 1836, a brick tower including a lantern room was erected on a pier to provide a fixed light for navigational purposes. Even though it wasn’t that impressive, the famous author Charles Dickens noticed the beacon while sailing from Sandusky to Cleveland in 1841.

Later a brick tower was constructed but as sand deposits built up along the pier, that effect moved the light closer to the shore. By 1875, that tower was replaced by a wooden one 46-feet tall. Damaged by ships, it eventually fell down and was replaced by yet another structure.

But it wasn’t until 1916 that construction began on the historic three-story lighthouse that still exists today. The U.S. Coast Guard manned Lorain Harbor Lighthouse from 1939 until it was automated in 1965. At that time, the light was deemed unnecessary and scheduled for demolition until the city’s community leaders and the Lorain Historical Society stepped in to save it.

The lighthouse became the property of the historical society in 1977 and the next year was named on the National Register of Historic Places. Since then this lighthouse has been refurbished, restored, and its foundation stabilized. Because of its location, it is open only during summer months. Another white tower named Lorain East Breakwater sits near this lighthouse, so you can view “two for the price of one.”

After we left Lorain, we traveled to Vermilion, Ohio where we saw the Vermillion Lighthouse located near the mouth of the river with the same name, which empties into Lake Erie.  

However, this particular structure is only a replica of a former lighthouse removed in 1929. Prior to that one, the first Vermilion Lighthouse, a wooden structure built in 1847, and renovated in 1859, eventually was replaced by a permanent iron lighthouse. A fascinating fact about the iron is that it was actually recycled from cannons that had been declared obsolete after the Battle of Fort Sumter during the Civil War.

Apparently, the citizens of Vermilion felt the lighthouse was a very romantic spot, even more so than Niagara Falls. Proof of that was written in a 1920 newspaper: “If all the residents of Vermilion were questioned and truthfully answered to the query, ‘Where did he pop the question?’ a large percentage of them would answer, ‘Down at the lighthouse.’ “

But the romantic aspect of the lighthouse wasn’t enough to save it because after an icy winter storm in 1929, the structure listed towards the river. So it was dismantled and replaced with a smaller steel tower. The old iron lighthouse then was transported to Buffalo, New York and renovated in 1935 to become the East Charity Shoal Light on the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Many years later, however, to ensure the original Vermilion Lighthouse would not be forgotten, one man named Theodore Wakefield attempted to sustain its memory. Known for favoring historic preservation in his hometown, Wakefield’s childhood home was donated to Bowling Green State University which then sold it to the Great Lakes Historical Society.

The home eventually opened as the Inland Seas Maritime Museum and Wakefield headed a fundraising campaign to construct a replica of the 1877 Vermilion Lighthouse on the museum grounds.

The 16-foot replica, erected in late 1991 and dedicated in June 1992 as a Coast-Guard-sanctioned private navigational aid emitting a steady red light, resulted. However, the museum closed in 2011, reopened in Toledo as the National Museum of the Great Lakes, and then deeded the replica lighthouse over to the city of Vermilion.

A pleasant drive continued along Lake Erie to our next viewing stop, Marblehead Lighthouse, which has been featured on a postage stamp, showcased on Ohio license plates, and is currently part of the Ohio State Parks system.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves disappointed because the tower, a popular landmark and tourist attraction, was under renovation and wrapped in covered scaffolding. Since I couldn’t get a nice photo of it, click on this You Tube video of lovely Marblehead.  

The oldest continuously operating beacon on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes, this lighthouse is located along the rocky edges of Marblehead Peninsula in the nine-acre Marblehead Lighthouse State Park.  We did enjoy strolling the grounds which provides views of not only Lake Erie, but also Sandusky Bay, Kelleys Island, and South Bass Island. 

Still an active navigational aid today, Marblehead was constructed in 1821 with native limestone. This lighthouse existed as the only such aid in the Sandusky Bay area for many years. In 1897 when repairs were necessary, instead of building a new tower, the top eight feet of limestone were removed and a cylindrical, brick extension added making the lighthouse 65 feet tall.

A noteworthy item is that before it became automated, 15 lighthouse keepers tended the beacon and two of them were women. The intensity of the signal dramatically increased in 1923 when the light’s kerosene lantern was replaced by electric light but it was not automated until 1958.

Marblehead served as a strategic national defense point during World War 2 and following the war, the U.S. Coast Guard became responsible for it when the last civilian lighthouse keeper resigned. The Coast Guard continues to operate and maintain the beacon which flashes a green signal every six seconds which can be seen for 11 nautical miles.

The Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society operates a museum in the park inside the old keeper’s home, built in 1880. The grounds in this state park are open year round but the lighthouse and keeper’s house is only open in summer and fall.

However, it has been closed due to covid-19 restrictions. Since we visited in the fall of 2019 and when renovations were taking place, we were not able to tour either the museum or the lighthouse itself. 

Hopefully, we can take another road trip in the near future to see this iconic lighthouse uncovered.  The pandemic has just caused us to change course for the time being. We will resume our empty nest travels yet again. And I’m fairly certain visiting more lighthouses will be part of our itinerary.

“Knowing when and how to change course is important to success. Self-doubt is a lighthouse that will keep you from running aground. Don’t become shipwrecked on the rocks of time. Be willing to rethink your decisions and change course.” ~ Harley King

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Tuesday Tour: Lake Erie Lights

One of the perks of empty nest retirement is that, for the most part, you can take off on an impromptu day trip whenever you feel like it.

On a whim one summer day last year, Papa and I decided to do just that and traveled northward in our home state. Although we’ve often been to and through the city of Erie and specifically to Lake Erie, we decided to spend a day exploring the area to see sites we hadn’t toured before.

Our excursion eventually took us to Presque Isle State Park where we visited two of the three Pennsylvania lighthouses situated on Lake Erie. Presque Isle is a peninsula that’s basically a sand bar located on the Lake Erie shoreline. Its name is derived from the French and means “almost an island.”

A fascinating folklore legend exists about Presque Isle. The Erie Indian tribe once inhabited the area because they believed the Great Spirit guided them to the shores of Lake Erie. In order to discover where the sun set in the evening, some of them entered into the lake paddling their canoes in that direction. But according to the legend, this made the spirits of the lake angry and a violent storm occurred.

They believed the Great Spirit heard their desperate cries during the storm and stretched his arm out into the water to protect them from the tempestuous lake, allowing them to safely navigate their canoes back to shore.  A sand bar formed where the Great Spirit extended his arm and blocked the turbulent water from harming his favorite people. After that, the sand bar, named Presque Isle, provided protection and a safe harbor for the Erie people.

The legend about Presque Isle is interesting enough but we found the lighthouses we viewed just as intriguing. Located on the northern shore of the state park, Presque Isle Light was constructed in 1872 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This picturesque lighthouse is 68 feet high and the original design called for cut stone blocks to construct it. However, that proved too expensive, so bricks were used instead. 

A barge anchored off shore from the building site held 6000 bricks for that purpose. One of those Great Lakes storms that occurs so often on Lake Erie caused the barge to break free and all of the bricks ended up in the lake.  To this day, intact bricks and bits and pieces, which many people believe were originally meant for the lighthouse, have been found on lake beaches.

Presque Isle Light was known as the Flash Light in its early days and was probably lit by oil because of its nearby vicinity to Pennsylvania’s oil country. Using an oil lamp burning inside the Fresnel lens caused the light to expand and produced a stronger beam.  Keepers and their families lived in the attached home, which was of considerable size since it consisted of nine rooms, until 1944.

Still an active navigational aid today for boaters on Lake Erie, this lighthouse is a popular spot for visitors during the summer season. When we visited last year, it was open to the public and while browsing in a nice gift shop located on the site, we found a treasure map – an illustrated 39 X 27 inch map and guide to every standing lighthouse in all 50 of the United States of America. The acquisition of that guide has fueled our desire to visit more lighthouses than ever.

The second Lake Erie lighthouse we visited on the Pennsylvania side was the Erie Harbor North Pier Light, also known as the Presque Isle North Pier Light, located at the far eastern end of Presque Isle State Park.

We parked our vehicle and then strolled out onto the pier, which is accessible to the public all year long even though the tower itself is not, to get an up close and personal view of the 34-foot high tower.  It’s also a popular spot for fishermen.

The original wooden tower was built in 1830 but in 1857 a schooner rammed it sweeping the tower away. Interestingly, the present black and white metal structure was forged in France and then assembled on site in Erie, but later moved east 450 feet in 1891 and then again moved in 1940 to its present location.  

By 1995, North Pier’s beacon changed from a fixed red beam to an automated red flashing light and is operated by the United States Coast Guard.  The old Fresnel lens that was removed is now exhibited in the Erie Maritime Museum, another fascinating and worthwhile place we visited in Erie.

This summer during the pandemic, Papa and I again ventured on a day trip to check out other Lake Erie lighthouses – only this time, we drove to the Ohio side of the lake.  Capturing photos of the two lighthouses we viewed proved more difficult though. 

First we located the Ashtabula Harbor Light, over a century old, situated in the rocky Ashtabula Harbor on a pier head.  The only spot we could find to access a view of it was from the beautiful Lakeshore Park. Becoming operational in 1876, the current square, pyramidal 30-foot Ashtabula Light replaced the first hexagonal tower built in 1836.

The present lighthouse endured some skirmishes when it was damaged by Lake Erie schooners and steamships which necessitated repairs and moving the lighthouse as well.

Another noteworthy fact involved a winter storm in 1928 when the lighthouse was covered in several feet of ice trapping two keepers inside for two days.  Eventually the keepers thawed the door open but had to dig a 40-foot long way through five feet of ice to escape. Can you imagine the claustrophobia that might cause?

Automated in 1973, this lighthouse was the last remaining manned beacon out of 68 Lake Erie lights. Currently, it is owned by the Ashtabula Lighthouse Restoration and Preservation Society and plans include restoring the structure and opening it for public tours.

From Ashtabula, we drove east to Conneaut (pronounced con-ee-aught and derived from Konyiat, the name Seneca Indians gave the creek emptying into Lake Erie here and meaning “place of many fish”).  Also located in Ashtabula County, we easily found the present Conneaut Harbor West Breakwater Lighthouse, which is only accessible by boat.

Not the first one to exist, several beacons serviced the Conneaut port from 1835 until 1934 when construction began on a new square, steel 60-foot tower. After its completion, the tower’s beam was visible 17 miles out into the lake and its fog horn could be heard from about 15 miles.

Originally, this tower was painted white, but later a black horizontal band was added to it.  By 1972, the lighthouse was automated and it currently emits alternating red and white flashes. In the early 1990’s the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office nominated Conneaut Harbor West Breakwater Light to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard regarded Conneaut West Breakwater Lighthouse as unnecessary and offered it at no cost to any federal, state, and local agency, and non-profit and educational organizations which met certain eligibility.  However, a qualified owner was not attained and subsequently, an online auction for the lighthouse was held.

A winning bid ensued but due to leasing issues, another online auction took place in 2011 when an Ohio businessman was awarded the lighthouse. By 2018 though, the lighthouse was listed for sale by the owner. Asking price – $72,000. I was not able to find any information on whether the lighthouse has actually sold since then or not.

Apparently, there are a number of lighthouses currently on the market all around the world. Living in a lighthouse in these modern times is an interesting concept and must appeal to some people.

I do appreciate and enjoy visiting lighthouses, and I love photographing them, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to live in one. Would you?

“We have a light upon our house, and it gives hope to all who sail upon the stormy seas. Do ya know what it means to have a light burning atop your home? It is safety, a place of refuge, seen by all as a signal that ye stand for something greater than this world, greater than us all.” ~James Michael Pratt, The Lighthouse Keeper, 2000 

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com