- Contact via East Harbor State Park at 419-734-4424 or www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/marblehead.htm
- Location: 110 Lighthouse Drive, Marblehead OH 43440
- Days and hours: Grounds open daily; tower and adjacent museum open 1 pm – 4:45 pm Monday through Friday, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, as well as the second Saturday of the month, June 1 through October.
- Fee: No
The Marblehead Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the Great Lakes, has guided sailors safely along the rocky shores of Marblehead Peninsula since 1822. Today, the Marblehead Lighthouse State Park invites visitors to explore the fascination history of maritime commerce, daring rescues at sea, and the unique lifestyle of the lighthouse keeper as technology changed the profession over time.
South Bass Island Lighthouse
- Contact via The OSU/Ohio Sea Grant office at 419-285-2341 or www.ohioseagrant.osu.edu
- Location: the southern tip of South Bass Island.
- Days and hours: Thursdays to Sundays from 1-4 during the summer.
Directions: To get to the island, take either the Jet Express from Port Clinton (Route 163) or downtown Sandusky (Jackson St. off Route 6) or take the Miller Boat Line from Catawba (Route 53). To see the lighthouse from shore, take Langram Road past the Miller Boat Line dock until it dead ends.
The Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse
- Contact via the Fairport Harbor Historical Society at 440-354-4825
- Location: 129 Second St., Fairport Harbor OH 44077.
- Days and hours: Open from the end of May through the third weekend of September on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, from 1 to 6 pm; special tours are available by appointment.
- Fee: Yes
Directions: Take Route 2 to the Painesville Exit. Head north on Richmond St. (which becomes High St.) Museum is on corner of Second and High Streets [129 Second St.]
Toledo Harbor Lighthouse
Vermilion Lighthouse and Inland Seas Maritime Museum
- 480 Main St., P.O. Box 435, Vermilion OH 44089
- 800-893-1485 or 440-967-3467
Although lighthouses can be found in many countries, they have reached an almost cultic status here in the US. American lighthouses have been pictured on postcards, travel brochures, T-shirts, family room wallpaper, and even US postage stamps, and their iconic shape has made its way into many graphic designs. Lighthouses are usually thought of as a New England attraction, but there are lighthouses in other states, too, including the ones that border the Great Lakes. In fact, there are more inland lighthouses along the shores of the Great Lakes than most countries have along their entire ocean coast line.
Ohio, which contains part of Lake Erie, is the home of a number of interesting lighthouses, keeper’s homes, and maritime museums, which you can find by following the 293-mile Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail that stretches from Conneaut in the northeast to Toledo in the northwest. This is not too surprising when you consider that Erie is the oldest, the shallowest, the most treacherous, and the most unpredictable of the Great Lakes.
The best-known (or at least the most photographed) of the Ohio lighthouses is Marblehead Lighthouse, formerly known as the Sandusky Bay Light. Located in Marblehead Lighthouse State Park (one of Ohio’s newest state parks) at the mouth of the Sandusky Bay entrance to Lake Erie, it was named after the village of Marblehead, which provided the 65-foot-high tower’s limestone building blocks. The tower, which opened in 1822, is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. During the summer, the tower is a popular tourist attraction, with hundreds of visitors browsing through the exhibits of lighthouse history in the Keeper’s House, taking guided tours, climbing up the tower’s spiral staircase, taking pictures from the tower balcony, and picnicking on the grounds.
It’s a lovely area and it has served as an attractive backdrop for weddings, vow renewals, proposals, and other special events over the years, although no reservations can be made for such use and the grounds are always open to the public. Visitors who want to make a day of it can also enjoy nearby East Harbor State Park, which offers a number of activities and amenities including camping, swimming, boating, disk golfing, and fishing.
In addition, lighthouse fans can also hop a boat over to South Bass Island (home of NW Ohio’s party town, Put-In-Bay) to visit the South Bass Island Lighthouse, which includes two-and-a-half stories of living space and an attached 60-foot tower. This lighthouse is owned by The Ohio State University, which conducts summer tours of the tower Thursdays through Sundays, from 1 pm to 4 pm. The living space is sometimes used to house visiting OSU speakers and dignitaries and is not open to the public. There is a small air-conditioned space upstairs that can be rented for meetings and various events, with light refreshments or catered meals.
An interesting side note: OSU also owns Gibraltar Island, the 6.5 acre island off the north side of South Bass Island. Located on Gibraltar is OSU’s Franz Theodore Stone Laboratory, the nation’s oldest freshwater biological field station. Two-hour tours of the island and facilities are offered in the summer on Wednesdays from 10 am to noon, on a first-come-first served basis. There are box lunches available for order and the $10 tour fee supports student scholarships.
OSU also runs an annual open house in September which offers tours of the island, workshop learning sessions, and microscope activities in the lab; visitors are ferried from the South Bass Island Research Building to Gibraltar and back on one of the university’s research vessels. This year’s open house is on September 6th, from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm, and it coincides with Put-in-Bay’s annual Historic Weekend, commemorating Commander Perry’s victory over the British in the War of 1812.
The northeastern shore of Ohio has its share of lighthouses, too, but most are not open to the public and can only be seen from a distance. However, the Fairport Harbor Village Lighthouse and Marine Museum, in Fairport Harbor, is worth a visit. The 60-foot-high sandstone and brick tower was built in 1871 at the mouth of the Grand River and has a spiral staircase that takes visitors right to the top. Visitors can also visit the adjacent museum (once the light keeper’s house) to learn more about lighthouses and Ohio history from the museum’s collection of navigational instruments, lighthouse lenses, ship models, Native American relics, and salt-mining and iron ore displays. Efforts are currently underway to restore the 61-year-old Fairport Harbor Breakwall Lighthouse, also located near the village.
I’ve only hit the highlights of the Ohio lighthouses and museums here. There‘s lots more to see; from the Moorish charm of the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse as seen from Maumee Bay State Park’s shoreline, to the Vermilion Lighthouse replica that stands on the front lawn of the Inland Seas Maritime Museum, the shores of Lake Erie are full of maritime history and adventure. Visitors with an insatiable appetite can find out more by contacting the locations listed below. Lighthouse and museum hours, days of operation, and entrance fees are subject to change; make sure you call ahead to confirm details before planning a trip.
Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail
- P.O. Box 1639, Sandusky OH 44870
- No phone number found
[Offers information on over 300 historical sites and natural areas, including a calendar of events for each site, as well as dates of lighthouse festivals and special events.]
Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center
Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center
Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce
- 5681 East Harbor Rd. Ste. C, Marblehead, OH 43440
Miller Boat Line
- P.O. Box 239, 535 Bayview Avenue, Put-in-Bay OH 43456
800-500-2421 or 419-285-2421
Franz Theodore Stone Laboratory Field Station
This is an excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler eMagazine.
Written by Betty Winslow.