Parts of this article originally appeared in Great Laker magazine.
The oldest continuous operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, located at Marblehead, Ohio, on Lake Erie. The light was first exhibited June 17, 1822, just 10 years after Commodore Perry's famous victory. The light was originally called the Sandusky Bay Light because it marked the entrance to Sandusky Bay and the eastern end of the South Passage between the Bass Islands and the Ohio shore. The name was changed to Marblehead Light in 1870.
Constructed in 1821 by William Kelly, Sandusky's first stone mason, at a cost of $6,520. Mr. Kelley built many of the fine homes in Sandusky. The tower is built of native limestone quarried nearby. The original tower was 50' above ground, the base 25' in diameter and 5' thick, and the top 12' in diameter and 2' thick.
The light was originally lighted by 13 Argand whale oil lamps with 16" reflectors. In 1858, the lighting fixture was changed to a Fourth Order Fresnel lens with a single lamp in the center. The Fresnel lens had been exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair before installation.
In 1897, 15' was added to the tower, to make space for a watch room at the top. The old lantern room was replaced by one taken from the Erie, Pennsylvania (Erieland) main light and a Fourth Order Fresnel bi-valve lens was installed with a clockwork mechanism to create 10-second flashes. The light was electrified in 1923, increasing the candlepower from 42,000 to 350,000 and increasing the visibility to 16 miles.
The lens and was removed in 1972, and had been on display at the Marblehead Coast Guard station, which is located nearby in downtown Marblehead. The lens was moved to the Keepers dwelling which is now a museum. The present 300mm light has a green glass duplex lens that displays a flashing light every six seconds that is visible for 7 miles.
The keeper's house, was erected in 1880 to replace the original (1822) keepers cottage, which is located a couple of miles a way. The present dwelling has been converted to a museum used by the Ottawa County Historical Society. The original barn is still on the site.
In addition to being the oldest continuous operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, Marblehead is also noted as having the first female keeper on the Great Lakes. Rachel Wolcott who took over from the first keeper, her husband Banajh Wolcott.
The light station became an Ohio State Park in 1998. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has maintained the light station since 1972. The Coast Guard operates and maintains the light.
The lighthouse grounds are open to the public year around, and the tower is open on the second Saturdays in June, July, August and September, courtesy of the USCG Auxiliary. On these occasions, the public is invited to climb 87 steps to the top. The light is an active aid to navigation.
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