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