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