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 Huron Harbor, OH    
A hike of some distance required.
Description: The mouth of the Huron River on Lake Erie was one of the first ports of Ohio to be settled. As early as 1749, a French trading post operated from this port, but it did not survive the Revolutionary War.

Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, another trading post was opened along the river, this time by a French Canadian. Areas along both the Huron River and Lake Erie continued to grow, and soon Huron, east of Sandusky, had become a large settlement. By 1824, a small boarding house and several logs cabins had been built, one of them being the home of Huron’s first shipbuilder. Other shipbuilders followed, and the steamboat Delaware was completed at Huron in 1834 only to be lost two years later during a violent summer storm on Lake Michigan. Though its passengers and crew would survive, the boat itself suffered irreparable damages.

Pierhead light before base was enclosed.
Photograph courtesy National Archives
As commerce increased at Huron, so too did the need for a navigational aid at the port. The first Huron Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1835 on the west pier, and the following description of the beacon was given in 1838 by Lieutenant Charles T. Platt of the U.S. Navy.

Huron beacon is lighted with eight lamps, and as many bright reflectors, fixed, and all in good order. The beacon stands on the west pier, which extends 900 feet into the lake. This is an excellent harbor, having from 14 to 18 feet of water for more than six miles up the river. The entrance between the piers is 175 feet in width, which is the average breadth of the river as far as navigable. Between the piers, however, we find but 11 feet of water.

A dwelling for the keeper is here requisite, and the following estimate is respectfully submitted: a house 32 by 25 feet, one and a half story in height, so partitioned as to make two rooms, with a bed-room and larder on the first floor, and two arched rooms on the second floor, with a good cellar, may be built for $1,200, of brick, under contract. The necessary out-buildings, with fences, including a well of water, may be built for $250. A lot, of 50 feet front by 120 feet rear, may be purchased for $500; making a total of $1,950.

A dwelling was built for the keeper, but it was later washed away along with half of the lot on which it stood. The lighthouse, a pyramidal tower constructed of wood, was not durable enough to withstand the wind and weather of Lake Erie, and it too met an unfortunate end during a fierce storm in May 1854. A new light was built three years later, and this time it was constructed of iron as were similar towers built in 1857 for Erie, Pennsylvania and Lorain, Ohio. The bottom portion of Huron Harbor's twenty-seven-foot, iron tower was open, exposing its circular stairway that to an enclosed watchroom and lantern room the latter of which was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens. An elevated walkway was also built so the keeper could access the tower when waves swept over the pier.

The station was without a dwelling for several years until Congress finally appropriated the necessary funds on March 3, 1871. After vexatious delays in obtaining title to a lot and dealing with a sick construction crew, the dwelling was finally occupied on February 1, 1873.

Huron Harbor Lighthouse had numerous keepers through the years with most serving just a year or two, but Richard Mansell was an exception. A veteran of the Civil War, Mansell was keeper of the light for forty years, from 1870 to 1909. An article in the Sandusky Daily Register in 1890 detailed Keeper Mansell's dedication during a storm that was called “the most severe that has visited Huron for a long time.”

It was now growing quite dark and Mr. Richard Mansell, in spite of the gale, started out to light the lamp in the Huron light house. Mr. Mansell is not a large man and people who watched his departure along the narrow, winding pathway thought he would scarcely reach his destination at all. Richard is not easily daunted, however, and holding onto the light hand-rail when the gusts came the hardest, he managed to work his way out to the open space on the extreme end of the pathway. There was no railing there and his figure was scarcely visible as he made a dive for the iron stairway leading up to the light house. He had scarcely grasped the banister when a wave dashed over the ends of the pier, washing it clear of all obstacles and dashing its spray over the light house forty feet in the air. Richard was safe, however, and in a moment more the bright light of the great Parisian lamp gave evidence that he was safe from all the storm.

Pierhead light in 1904 with oil house and elevated walk.
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1900, the lower portion of the tower was covered with sheathing and metal shingles and painted white below the lantern room. According to an 1878 Light List, the tower had previously been painted black on its lower part and red on its upper portion. An oil house was erected adjacent to the tower in 1903.

In 1908, the Lighthouse Board noted that Huron was rapidly becoming a harbor of importance and warranted the “establishment of efficient lights for all vessels desiring to use the harbor.” The number of vessels using the port had increased from 891 in 1906 to 1,136 in 1907, prompting the Board to request $3,800 to relocate the pierhead tower to the outer end of the west pier extension when it was completed and place a second light on the pier to form a range for entering the harbor. Congress finally responded to the request on June 12, 1917, appropriating $4,500 for the project.

The rear light was placed at a bend in the west pier, roughly 400 yards from the pierhead light, and consisted of a square, pyramidal, skeletal tower surmounted by a railed platform holding duplicate fourteen-inch headlight reflectors. The fixed red rear range light had a focal plane of seventy-one feet and went into operation on August 29, 1919. A fog bell, which was also included in the appropriation, was established in the tower at the end of the pier on April 9, 1923.

In 1928, the intensity of the front light was increased through the introduction of electricity as the illuminant, and the fog bell was replaced by an air diaphone that sounded a group of two blasts every thirty seconds.

A project was begun in May 1934 to create a 1,200-foot, rubble-mound extension to the west pier and remove 300 feet from the outer end of the east breakwater to widen the entrance to the harbor and create a larger turning basin in the Huron River. This work was completed the following year, and a fifty-foot-square crib was built at the outer end of the west pier to serve as the foundation for a steel lighthouse of a new design.

Huron Harbor Lighthouse with lantern room
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A reflection of the artistic style of the 1930s, the Art Deco lighthouse was fabricated by F. P. Dillon and W. G. Will and consists of a square, cylindrical tower on a square fog signal building. The lighthouse stands seventy-two feet high and was placed in commission on April 8, 1936. Its “sister” at Conneaut, approximately 120 miles to the northeast, was also built by Dillon and Will that same year.

Huron Harbor Lighthouse was originally surmounted by a lantern room and lit by commercial power supplied by a submarine cable. The lighthouse was controlled from shore, where there was a standby electric generator in the event commercial power failed.

After the light was automated in 1972, the tower's lantern room was removed, and a modern beacon consisting of a solar-powered 375mm lens was installed. Still in use today, the light has a focal plane of eighty feet, can be seen over a twelve-mile radius, and flashes a red light with a characteristic of three seconds on followed by three seconds off.

At the mouth of Huron River, two slips capable of accommodating large lake freighters have been constructed. Huron Harbor Lighthouse guides the mighty freighters into the safe confines of the breakwaters where their cargoes of coal, iron ore, and grain can be safely loaded and unloaded.

The Huron Harbor breakwater is frequently used as a fishing pier, and the dredge spoil adjacent to it is being transformed by the Army Corps of Engineers into a sixty-four-acre island that is slated to become a town park. The square cement foundation, which was formerly home to the pierhead light for many years, is still clearly evident as you stroll out to the modern light.

Head Keepers: Morris Jackson (1835 - 1837), George Patterson (1837 - 1841), Joseph Barnes (1841 - 1842), M. Ledyard (1842 - 1843), Emmanuel Fisher (1843 - 1844), Alexander Lesley (1844 - 1846), Reuben Smith (1846 - 1849), Zeb Montague (1849 - 1851), Alrathas Strickland (1851 - 1852), Redi Webber (1852 - 1853), Charles Bently (1853), Abel White (1853), Solomon Squire (1853 - 1856), Rosewell Steele (1856 - 1857), Henry Steele (1857), Solomon Squire (1856 - 1861), W. Shirley (1861 - 1863), John Packer (1863 - 1864), Charles Chapman (1864 - 1865), Jacobs Collins (1865 - 1869), William Ryan (1869 - 1870), Richard Mansell (1870 - 1909), Joseph Crawford (1910 - 1923), Richard Tonge (1923 - 1933), Daniel D. Hill (1933 - 1942), Robert E. Johnes (1944 - 1947), Robert Siggen (1955 - 1958).

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. “Huron Harbor Lighthouse,” Lake Erie Coastal Ohio.
  5. Huron Harbor Lighthouse Historical Marker

Location: Located at the end of the pier on the west side of the entrance to the Huron River near Huron.
Latitude: 41.40469
Longitude: -82.543867

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


Travel Instructions: From Interstate 90, take O13(Main) north to O6 (John Campbell Blvd) and turn left. Take the first right, which is Williams Street, and follow it until ends at Wall Street. Turn right on Wall and continue to Main Street, where you will find parking on your left. Walk out on the concrete pier until you have to cut left on a dirt trail to the sea wall that leads to the Huron Harbor Lighthouse. A historical marker telling about the lighthouse is found near the intersection of Wall and Main.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.

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