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: 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

Tuesday Tour: Assateague Light

We came in search of wild horses, instead we found a lighthouse.

On our jaunt to the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay a couple of years ago, after touring various sites in Maryland, we decided to head south to Assateague and cross over into Virginia for the afternoon. On a whim, we thought we’d particularly visit Chincoteague Island where we hoped to catch sight of a wild horse or two.

No such luck for us that day. All we spotted within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was some…ahem…evidence, shall we say, that horses had recently been where we were.

But we did spy a red and white striped 142-foot tall lighthouse in the distance when we stopped at a visitor’s center and were bird watching on the building’s deck looking over marshland.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Assateague Light is an active navigational aid located on the southern end of Assateague Island, maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, and currently owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

We easily found our way by car to an area to park and walked the short hike along a trail to the lighthouse itself. We found that we were the only visitors there that afternoon.

Open to the public on weekends from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. from April through November with free admission, although donations are accepted to help maintain the lighthouse, unfortunately we visited on a weekday and it was closed.

However, visitors may take tours of Assateague Light to learn its history and about life as a light keeper. In addition, they can climb 175 steps to the top of the tower and view the surrounding areas of the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland as well as Chincoteague, Assateague, and Wallops Island where NASA has a flight facility.

The current brick lighthouse is the second to stand at this location. After the original one, only lit by candle lantern and erected in 1833 was determined to be too short, construction of a new taller and more effectively illuminated lighthouse began in 1860.

The Civil War interrupted and the newer Assateague Light wasn’t completed until 1867. Converted to electricity in the early 1930’s, Assateague’s current beacon consists of two rotating lights flashing one after another 154 feet above sea level and can be spotted 19 miles out to sea.

As one of less than 20 lighthouses of its type still operational on the eastern coast of the United States, we were pleased we noticed it and took the time to visit historic Assateague Light.

I believe while gazing at that old lighthouse still shining without ceasing to guide sea vessels through shallow shoals of Chesapeake Bay, a glimmer of light flickered in my mind — a light bulb moment so to speak – as I photographed that beacon.

The allure of capturing photos of lighthouses began developing that afternoon at Assateague Light and inspired other empty nest travels for Papa and I to view these magnificent structures.

Something about the goodness of a lighthouse, the purpose it serves to keep mankind safe in perilous conditions appealed to me. Shouldn’t we all emulate a lighthouse for our fellow human beings?

“Man must behave like a lighthouse; he must shine day and night for the goodness of every man.” ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

©2020 mamasmeptynest.wordpress.com