|Port Clinton, OH|
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. The surviving structures that have been part of Port Clinton’s lighthouse history are now 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 of 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 ten miles into the lake. Johnson was also responsible for the single-story, twenty by thirty-four foot, stone keepers 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.
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.
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. Momeny resigned after six years 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 informed 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.
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.
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 of 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 the Grassy Island light. 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 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 stone dwelling was described as "unsightly, uncomfortable, and unhealthful," and "unfit for human habitation." The Lighthouse Board recommended that $3,000 be provided 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 boat house 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 served as keeper of the light from 1900 until his death in 1911. He 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. Sutherland was transferred to Toledo in March 1926 to care for the Manhattan Range lights, and his son, Wallace, looked after the Port Clinton Light for a few months until electricity was substituted for the oil burners and the light was automated.
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. Doris Dubbart purchased the property in 1945, and the home was eventually subdivided into apartments and even served as a beauty shop. The 1901 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 in 2010 and charged with arson. Though damaged, the home remains standing.
In 1964, the wooden Port Clinton lighthouse was removed from the breakwater by Dave Jeremy and relocated to his marina on the Portage River. 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 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 would like the lighthouse to be placed in Waterworks Park, near the river's mouth, while the city wants it 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.”
The conservancy has raised $13,000 of the expected $30,000 need to restored the lighthouse, and in January 2013, it held a public meeting to rally support for its desire to place the lighthouse in Waterworks Park.
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. After 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).
Located in Brands' Marina on the north side
of the Portage River in Port Clinton. The lighthouse is owned by the City of Port Clinton. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the City of Port Clinton. Grounds open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.