Last weekend, Don and I headed up to Sandusky, Ohio for BloggyCon ’15. While Cedar Point is a huge draw for most people, we don’t like the roller coaster scene and decided to find other things to do in Sandusky. While eating dinner, I remembered Marblehead Lighthouse and begged him to help me find it, even though it was getting dark and a storm was blowing in. So, when we finished dinner – off we went to Marblehead to see this beautiful, historical lighthouse on Lake Erie.
Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest, continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. In 1819, Congress set aside $5000 to build a lighthouse on Marblehead Peninsula to assist ships into Sandusky Bay.
William Kelly and two other men began construction in September 1821 on a base of limestone at the northernmost tip of Marblehead Peninsula. The base of the lighthouse was 26 feet in diameter and had walls that were five feet thick. This tower narrowed to a top of 12 feet in diameter and two foot thick walls. It was constructed of local limestone that was found nearby.
Marblehead Lighthouse cost over $7000 to build and was the only “navigational device” in the area for many years. Until 1870, it was called the Sandusky Bay Lighthouse.
Benajah Wolcott was appointed the first the first light keeper in 1822 and one of the first settlers in the area. While maintaining the light, Wolcott had William Kelly build a small house near the lighthouse. The house is still standing and is considered to be the oldest residence still standing in Ottawa County. Today, it is a museum operated by the Ottawa County Historical Society.
Each evening, Wolcott would climb the lighthouse, light the 13 lamps and then monitor the lamps until morning. Wolcott also kept a log of the ships that passed, weather conditions, and assisted with rescue missions. Wolcott passed away in 1832 from cholera. His wife took over his lighthouse duties and became the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes. Rachel remarried, and her new husband, Jeremiah Van Benschoten became the next light keeper.
The whale oil maps were replaced by a lard oil lamp in 1858. This lamp was magnified by a fourth-order Fresnel lens. In 1876, a lifesaving station was built west of the lighthouse with Lucien Clemons at its commander.
In 1877, it was recommended that $20,000 be provided to rennovate the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s home. The funds allowed a keeper’s dwelling to be built that had housing for the keeper an an assistant. The monies also included covering the lighthouse with stucco and painting it white. In 1897, a cylindrical brick extension was added to the top of the tower that was used for a watchroom and closets. Four windows were also added to the structure. Within the lighthouse, the spiral, cast-iron stairway that originally was in the Erie Land Lighthouse was added in 1900.
In 1877, the Lighthouse Board recommended that $20,000 be provided for rebuilding the station. The keeper’s dwelling was described as “old, leaky, and barely habitable,” and the tower was “in bad condition.” By the following year, the dwelling was “not habitable in cold weather” and was “unfit for use as a dwelling at any time.” The keeper and his family were forced to seek shelter in a small, one-room shed during cold weather. Funds allowed the current keeper’s dwelling to be constructed in 1880 and the exterior of the limestone tower to be covered with stucco and painted white, but the Lighthouse Board continued to insist that a new tower was needed. The keeper’s dwelling had seven rooms and a cellar and served as housing for the head keeper and an assistant.Later, a system that was powered by weights inside a large pipe in the center of the tower was used to revolve the 14,000 pound Barbier,Benard, & Tureene Fresnel lens. The light keeper would crank up the weights every four hours and the weights would allow the lens to revolve and create a white flash every ten seconds. In 1923, the kerosene lamp was replaced with an electric lamp that increased the light to 600,000 candlepower.
In 1943, the last civilian keeper resigned and the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse. The light was automated and fresh stucco was added several years later. In a major renovation in 1969, a 300 mm beacon replaced the outdated Fresnel lens. The new beacon flashes a green light every six seconds.
The tower and land around the lighthouse was declared surplus federal property in January 1997. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources applied for ownership. In April 1998, the ODNR was granted ownership and made plans to invest a million dollars to renovate the lighthouse and keeper’s home, protect the shore from erosion, and provide visitor amenities. The lighthouse and area surrounding it are now part of the Ohio State Park system and are known as Marblehead Lighthouse State Park.
This was one of the most interesting and beautiful lighthouses I have seen on the Great Lakes. I could have sat for hours listening to the waves crash against the limestone shore and imagining what it would be like to be a keeper of the light at Marblehead.
Information Source: http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=278