Lighthouse Friends Home Page
 Port Clinton, OH    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.
Description: Despite early doubts about the necessity of a lighthouse at Port Clinton, the area has been home to several diverse structures, which have served to mark the entrance to the Portage River from Lake Erie, and now the surviving structures are treasured landmarks for Port Clintonites.

In 1827, a group of Scotsmen shipwrecked near Port Clinton. Rather than continue on to their destination of Chicago, they remained at Port Clinton and quickly developed a fishing trade. Germans soon joined the Scots, and by the early 1830s, Port Clinton had become a fishing center with fish sheds sprinkled all along the Portage River estuary.

In October 1832, the government purchased acreage on the east side of the mouth of the Portage River from Ezekiel and Charlotte Haines for lighthouse purposes. Two months later, Levi Johnson, a respected contractor from Cleveland, was commissioned to build a lighthouse on the property. In this first incarnation, Port Clinton Lighthouse was a round, pyramidal tower, constructed of split-stone. The lighthouse stood forty feet tall and used an array of eight lamps backed by reflectors to project a beam of light ten miles into the lake. Johnson was also responsible for the single-story, twenty by thirty-four foot, stone keeper's residence erected near the tower. The Portage River ran within 100 feet of the lighthouse buildings before emptying into the lake at present-day Fulton Street.

Original Port Clinton Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Michel Forand
Six months after work on the lighthouse commenced, Austin Smith, a sea captain from Connecticut, became the first lightkeeper, and his granddaughter, Juliet Smith, was the first child born keeper's dwelling. In 1836, Smith provided the warmth of his home to a group of people who were shipwrecked. Like the Scottish mariners a decade earlier, the shipwrecked party was on their way to Chicago but took a liking to the Port Clinton locality and made their homes there.

After inspecting lighthouses on Lake Erie in 1838, Lieutenant Charles T. Platt wrote the following.

Port-Clinton light-house is lighted with eight lamps, and as many bright reflectors; every thing in good order, with the exception of the chimneys, which are too short, not reaching above the scallops of the reflectors. With the above exception, every thing appertaining to both the lighthouse and the dwelling is without fault.

I am decidedly of opinion that this light may be discontinued without the slightest detriment to the commerce of the lake. It affords no assistance in making a harbor, for there is none in the neighborhood; the coast is free from rocks or shoals, with a bold shore, conspicuous to the mariner, and easily avoided.

In 1843, Stephen Pleasonton, who was in charge of the country's lighthouse, also recommended the lighthouse be discontinued as “not more than one or two vessels enter the port in the course of a year.” Reports like this started an on-going debate over the usefulness of the lighthouse, but it remained active for several years. In 1846, six new oil lamps were placed in the lantern room. By 1854, this number had been reduced to four, and in 1855 a sixth-order lens was installed.

George O. Momeny was appointed keeper in 1853 on the recommendation of General J.A. Jones and others of the Democratic Party. After six years of service, Momeny resigned and was honorably discharged from his duties.

The Lighthouse Board discontinued the light in 1859, but then had it reactivated on August 1, 1864, with Leander Porter as the keeper. In 1870, the old Port Clinton Lighthouse was discontinued for good, and the lantern room was removed from the stone tower.

Residents of Port Clinton were not happy with the change. An article in the Ottawa Union in November 1870 argued that the only port in the district with as many entrances and clearances as Port Clinton was Sandusky. Apparently, a Commodore Scott, an old salter, had claimed that nothing but a few sand pans used the light of Port Clinton, leading to the discontinuance of the light. The article in the Union stressed that seven steamers, besides scows and schooners, plied the waters of the Portage River day and night. As a compromise, the article even proposed that the lighthouse be donated to the town, who would then use entrance and clearance fees to maintain the lighthouse.

Port Clinton Lighthouse on west pier in 1911
Photograph courtesy National Archives
A custodian was allowed to live in the vacated dwelling and was paid a nominal annual salary of $1 to keep the place in repair. Captain William Duff and his wife lived at the lighthouse residence while they waited for their new house to be built. Their son, Alfred, was born there, and a daughter, Matilda, died there in 1875.

Piers were extended into Lake Erie from either side of the Portage River in 1883, and an act approved on February 15, 1895 authorized the establishment of a pierhead light to mark the harbor. A square, wooden, pyramidal tower, surmounted by an octagonal lantern encircled by a balcony and hand rail, was erected atop piles at the outer end of the west pier in 1896. A 180° lens lantern, fitted with ruby chimneys, was used in the lantern room to produce a fixed red light at a focal plane of twenty-five feet, eight inches. The light went into service on July 15, 1896, with the keeper living in the original dwelling.

Peter and Mary Hineline were the last caretakers of the dwelling, and Robert Waterfield, their son-in-law, was appointed the first keeper of the pier light. In August 1899, Waterfield and his assistant razed the remains of the old, split-stone tower. The stone was removed by the government steamer, Warrington and was taken by scow to the Detroit River where it was used to protect the beach in front of Grassy Island Lighthouse. The Elmore Independent, dated August 18, 1899, expressed regret at the destruction of the old landmark, which had withstood the weather for many years and was just as solid in 1899 as the day it was first built. When the demolition work was done, no trace of the old tower remained - its service was remembered only in the minds of a few old timers.

In 1899, the Lighthouse Board described the stone dwelling as “unsightly, uncomfortable, and unhealthful,” and “unfit for human habitation” and requested $3,000 for a new residence. In 1901, the old dwelling was taken down, and a two-story, frame home was built for the keeper. The structure was equipped with a hot-air furnace and connected to the local water supply and sewer. Some twenty-one fruit and shade trees were planted on the lighthouse lot, and the keeper was given fifteen pounds of lawn seed to sow. In 1902, a boathouse was built for the keeper, who had to row across the river and out to the west pier as the keeper's dwelling was on the east shore. An iron oil house was placed on the pier near the tower in 1905.

George Pope, who served as keeper of the light from 1900 until his death in 1911, was noted for making his regular trips to the lighthouse at end of the pier even when the lake and river were frozen. David Sutherland succeeded Pope and served at Port Clinton until March 1926, when he was transferred to Toledo to care for the Manhattan Range lights. Sutherland's son, Wallace, looked after Port Clinton Lighthouse for a few months until electricity was substituted for the oil burners and the light was automated. Clarence Perry subsequently served as a custodian of the light for many years.

Port Clinton Lighthouse on pier with oil house
Photograph courtesy Michel Forand
The government sold the lighthouse lot and keeper’s dwelling in 1927 to a physician by the name of H. J. Pool, who used the dwelling as a nurses' home. In 1945, Doris Dubbart purchased the property , and it was subsequently subdivided into apartments and even served as a beauty shop. The residence opened as a restaurant, known as The Garden at the Lighthouse, in 1983, but it closed in September 2009, after a fire broke out in its basement. The restaurant owner was arrested and charged with arson in 2010. The damaged home was sold in April 2013 to Croghan Colonial Bank for future expansion.

In November 1952, the wooden Port Clinton lighthouse was removed from the breakwater by Dave Jeremy and relocated to his marina on the Portage River. At the time the 1896 lighthouse was removed from the west pier in 1952, a fifth-order Fresnel lens was in use, but the replacement structure, a white skeletal tower with a small house at its base, employed a 375 mm lens.

In 2011, the owners of the marina, now known as Brands' Marina, donated the lighthouse to Port Clinton so it could be refurbished and displayed on city property, with the hopes of attracting more visitors to the downtown area. Under the direction of the Port Clinton Lighthouse Conservancy, the lantern room was relocated to a Catawba Island Township workshop on November 7, 2011 using a crane provided by Focht Construction.

Restoration plans for the lighthouse hit a snag when the city and the Port Clinton Lighthouse Conservancy couldn't agree on exactly where the tower should be relocated. The conservancy wanted the lighthouse to be placed in Waterworks Park, near the river's mouth, while the city preferred it be located farther from the waterfront. “We believe that the full restoration of the lighthouse and its placement on the waterfront will do more than preserve a vital piece of local history for future generations,” wrote Richard Norgard, president of the conservancy. “It will also serve as an unparalleled attraction for visitors from far and wide, and help fuel the city’s economy into the foreseeable future.”

After the conservancy had raised $13,000 of the expected $30,000 need to restore the lighthouse, it held a public meeting in January 2013 to rally support for its desire to place the lighthouse in Waterworks Park. The conservancy's persistence worked, and in September 2013, it received approval to place the restored lighthouse in Water Works Park, north of Derby Pond. The base of the lighthouse was moved indoors in June 2013 for restoration work, and a dedication ceremony for the refurbished tower is planned for July 15, 2014.

The current structures marking the entrance to Portage River are a pair of flashing red and green entrance lights. The boathouse associated with Port Clinton Lighthouse stood near the baseball diamond in Waterworks Park for many years after being relocated there in the 1950s. When various plans to restore the structure fell through, city workers tore it down in 2010. An oil house used with the lighthouse reportedly still remains in the park.

Head Keepers: Austin Smith (1833 - 1848), W. Cranfield (1848 - 1849), Benjamin Orcutt (1849 - 1853), George Momney (1853 - 1859), A. Borden (1859), Leander S. Porter (1864 - 1870), Robert Waterfield (1896 - 1900), Daniel Finn (1900), George A. Pope (1900 - 1911), David Sutherland (1912 - 1926).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Annual Report of the Lake Carriers' Association, various years.
  4. The American Lakes Series: Lake Erie, Hatcher, Harlan. The Bobbs-Merrill Company: Indianapolis, New York.
  5. Historical Files of Harris-Elmore Public Library, Ohio.
  6. “Jottings off the cuff: Lighthouse once in Port Clinton,” Ray G. Sperber, Port Clinton News-Herald, April 19, 1974.
  7. “Three Lighthouses have shown the way for mariners,” News-Herald, April 7, 1978.
  8. “Lighthouse restoration stalls over location spat,” Federico Martines, toledoblade.com, January 16, 2013.

Location: Located in Brands' Marina on the north side of the Portage River in Port Clinton.
Latitude: 41.515977
Longitude: -82.946831

For a larger map of Port Clinton Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: Port Clinton Lighthouse is currently being restored and is slated to be displayed at Waterworks Park in Port Clinton in July 2014.

The lighthouse is owned by the City of Port Clinton. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Port Clinton Lighthouse

See our List of Lighthouses in Ohio

The lighthouses The Maps Our friends Lighthouse Resources Lighthouse Events Lighthouse Store Lighthouse Posters
Copyright © 2001- Lighthousefriends.com
Send us an e-mail - please note that lighthousefriends.com is not affiliated with any lighthouse

Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.