Description: Lorain, Ohio, saw its first navigation light in the form of a lantern hanging from a pole at the mouth of the Black River during the early 1800s. In 1836, a cylindrical brick tower capped with a lantern room was built at the outer end of the pier that extended from the west bank of the Black River. The light was produced by eight lamps, fueled by lard oil and set in fifteen-inch reflectors. Though unassuming, the beacon shone brightly enough to be noticed by Charles Dickens as he sailed from Sandusky to Cleveland in 1841.
Upon examining the light in 1838, Lieutenant Charles T. Platt of the U.S. Navy noted: "The beacon stands on the west pier, which extends 680 feet into the lake. In order to render it safe for the tender (keeper) to approach the beacon in foul weather, it will be necessary to raise the pier at least two feet. At three different times last year, such was the violence of the waves, that persons endeavoring to light the beacon were washed from the pier, one of whom was drowned. This is an excellent harbor, with ten feet of water for more than three miles up the river. The width at the entrance of the harbor is 175 feet, which is probably the average width of the river. It is capable of accommodating at least fifty vessels."
John Connolly, the longest serving keeper at Lorain, was appointed in 1871 and and retired in 1903 at the age of seventy-five. In his youth, Connolly learned the trade of ship carpenter and caulker and was a sailor on the Great Lakes for thirty years before becoming a lighthouse keeper. Besides seeing changes in Lorain Lighthouse, Connolly also saw Lorain grow from a village of 500 to a thriving city of 6,000.
On the evening of August 21, 1888, a scow became unmanageable while entering the harbor and ran its jib boom into the east face of the tower. Unruly ships also caused damage to the elevated walk on numerous occasions. The owners of the schooner B. F. Bruce and Iron Boat No. 102 had to pay for repairs to the walkway caused by their vessels in July 1890.
Congress appropriated $400 in 1891 to place a second tower on shore to serve as a range with the pierhead tower. The amount proved insufficient and it was until October 15, 1893, that the rear light was first exhibited from a skeletal, iron tower. After being struck by the schooner Alta, while it was being towed away from the pier, the rear tower fell on June 22, 1894, shattering the three lens lanterns that were used to show a white light vertically centered between two red lights. The lights from a new tower were exhibited on August 25, 1894.
In 1905, the Lighthouse Board recommended that the government spend $5,000 to build a keeper's dwelling at Lorain. "There is no dwelling at the Black River, Ohio, light-station for the keeper, and no land there is owned by the Government on which a keeper's dwelling can be built," the Board noted. "The keeper receives $600 a year for tending the two range lights of the station. From this amount he pays $144 a year for rent of a house, leaving only $456 a year for support of his family."
In 1909, the construction of converging breakwaters to protect the harbor at Lorain was completed and temporary lights, exhibited from wooden structures, were established to mark the their outer ends. While awaiting funds for a proper lighthouse to mark the harbor entrance, the Lighthouse Service replaced the wooden structures with steel, skeletal towers, topped by acetylene lights, in April 1912.
Congress finally provided $35,000 on October 22, 1913 for a light and fog signal for the west breakwater pierhead, and work on Lorain Lighthouse, as seen today, started in 1916. By the close of that year, the concrete base was in place, the steel work was erected, and the reinforced concrete walls were finished, allowing a temporary acetylene light to be shown from atop the new structure. A revolving fourth-order lens, which produced five seconds of light followed by a five-second eclipse, commenced operation in the new lighthouse on April 7, 1919, and the diaphone fog signal was commissioned on May 13, 1919.
In 1922, the old wooden tower at the end of the west pier was replaced by a skeletal, steel tower, whose electric light operated on commercial power instead of oil. A residence for the keepers and their families was finally provided in 1923, when a double dwelling in Lorain was transferred from the United States Shipping Board to the Lighthouse Service.
Keeper Olin W. Stevens was awarded a lighthouse efficiency flag for having the best-kept station in the district in 1922. The following year, Keeper Stevens rescued the occupants of a canoe that overturned in the vicinity of the lighthouse. On July 24, 1925, an explosion occurred on a Coast Guard boat near the lighthouse, and Keeper Stevens and Ralph L. McGue, an assistant keeper, promptly rescued its crew.
The Coast Guard assumed control of Lorain Lighthouse in 1939, stationing three men from the local unit at the light. The coastguardsmen occasionally served as lookouts for both a lifeboat station and the Air Force, and during their spare time in 1959, they painted the lighthouse, a task that took one year to complete, using four-inch brushes and fifty gallons of paint.
As part of a $22 million improvement of the harbor, an outer breakwall was put in place, and an automated modern tower, placed at its western tip, took over the function of lighting the harbor entrance in 1965. The Coast Guard withdrew its last crew from Lorain Lighthouse and planned to demolish the structure. With the removal of both the its lens and occupants, the lighthouse fell victim to vandalism. Vandals stole the two brass foghorns from the lighthouse, and the Coast Guard decided to weld the entrance to the lighthouse shut to keep unwelcome visitors out. Looking more like a fortress than ever, the Lorain Lighthouse stood and awaited its sad and certain fate.
What came instead was a barrage of protests from the Lorain community, as well as some fortuitous storms on Lake Erie. Wayne Conn, William Parker, John and Clara Corogin and the Lorain Historical Society stepped forward to organize an effort to save the lighthouse. With the demolition scheduled for October 1965, the group worked quickly, contacting the mayor, congressman and United States Coast Guard. Thanks to Conn's negotiating, as well as fierce winter weather, the demolition plans were postponed until the spring of 1967. By then, the campaign to save the lighthouse had convinced the Coast Guard to cancel the demolition contract.
In 1973, the Coast Guard turned the lighthouse over to the General Services Administration, which worked to sell the structure. Buyers had to be non-profit organizations with historical purposes and had to prove that they had the means necessary to maintain the lighthouse. The story spread quickly, all over the world in fact. A couple from Lorain even saw an ad for the lighthouse in a Parisian newspaper while visiting France.
Over the next few years, a Save-the-Lighthouse Committee worked with the Great Lakes Historical Society, an eligible buyer. The society ultimately decided not to purchase the lighthouse, so the committee resumed negotiations with the Lorain County Historical Society, with whom they had had ongoing contact for several years. Finally, in 1977, Lorain Lighthouse was sold to the Lorain Historical Society. The deed was given in exchange for $1.00. The following year the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the fall of 1981, "Operation Lighthouse" was executed, during which the lighthouse was refurbished. This time the structure was painted professionally using a generous donation of 160 gallons of paint from the Glidden Company. (The company would later use "before and after" photos of the lighthouse in its advertising.) Numerous companies and individuals volunteered their time and resources — an estimated value of over $30,000 — to restore the lighthouse.
After noticing cracks in the base of the lighthouse, an underwater examination of the foundation was performed in 1987. The building itself was also inspected, and it was found that $700,000 in repairs was needed. Shortly thereafter, the lighthouse was purchased by its present owner, the Port of Lorain Foundation, a non-profit foundation established to preserve both the lighthouse and Lorain's waterfront. The foundation was fortunate enough to receive grants from several organizations, including the Ohio Historical Society, the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County, the Stocker Foundation and the TRW Foundation. Schools in the Lorain area launched a fund-raiser of their own to help repair the lighthouse, and their "Pounds of Pennies" campaign raised over $5,000. The federal government provided the most assistance, however, passing the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill that included $500,000 for restoration of Lorain Lighthouse.
Repairs to the lighthouse continued throughout the 1990s and included the stabilization of the foundation and some exterior cosmetic work by the Army Corps of Engineers, the lighthouse's original builders. This time their project cost $850,000, a steep price compared to the original cost of $35,000 in 1917.
The fourth-order Fresnel lens, which had been on display at the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse near Rochester, New York for twenty years, returned to Ohio during the summer of 2011 at the request of the Lorain Port Authority. The lens is currently in a privately owned storage facility in Cleveland, but will be put on display in the new Ferry Terminal Building that will be constructed at Black River Landing.
The sentinel of concrete still faithfully guards the Port of Lorain on Lake Erie. For half a century it functioned as a signal to navigators. Now dark and quiet, Lorain Lighthouse, the "Jewel of the Port," stands as a monument to the community that has fought to preserve it.
Head Keepers: Captain Augusta Jones (1837 - 1841), Patrick Sinnott (1841 - 1843), Thomas Browne (1843 - 1848), David Foote (1848 - 1853), Hugh Sleator (1853 - 1857), Moses Packer (1857 - 1859), Lester Smith (1859 - 1861), Henry Ludnum (1861 - 1865), Alanson Bridges (1865 - 1871), James Connolly (1871 - 1903), George F. Ferguson (1903 - 1905), Robert Waterfield (1905 - 1910), Peter Diffley (1910 - 1914), Olin Stevens (1920 - 1937), Joe Price (1937 - 1940).
Located at the end of the western breakwater
in the harbor at Lorain.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
Not satisfied with a distant view of the Lorain Lighthouse, we walked around the docks and begged for a boat ride to the light. We finally found a reluctant, but willing, captain to provide transportation for us. We had to wait while he cleaned his boat from his recent fishing charter, but we were rewarded with a close-up view of the recently restored lighthouse. The fresh red, grey, and white, a color pattern found on many a U.S. Lighthouse, really make for a striking combination.
See our List of Lighthouses in Ohio
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Rona Proudfoot, used by permission.