|Cleveland Harbor Main Entrance, OH|
Description: Named for the Mohawk word for “crooked,” the Cuyahoga River twists and turns until it empties into the southern shore of Lake Erie. Moses Cleaveland, the area's first white settler, arrived in 1796, and soon the shore near the mouth of the Cuyahoga had grown from a frontier village to an important port city. By 1830 there was enough traffic in Cleveland’s harbor to warrant the port’s first light station, erected around the same time the Cleveland Advertiser “officially” changed the spelling of the city’s name from Cleaveland.
A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the pierhead light in 1854, and the lighthouse on the bluff was discontinued in 1856. This action proved temporary for in 1859 the Lighthouse Board noted: "In conformity to act of Congress, the hill-light at Cleveland has been renovated and relighted."
Even though many questioned the usefulness of the lighthouse on the bluff for years, on March 3, 1869, Congress appropriated $45,000 for building a new lighthouse and keeper's dwelling at that location. A light was established on a temporary structure on August 9, 1870, so the old stone tower could be removed and the new structures built. Work was suspended shortly thereafter, as the funds had reverted to the treasury, but a new appropriation was provided on March 3, 1871. Completion of the brick tower and dwelling were delayed due to the unavailability of brick caused by the Great Chicago Fire.
The new lighthouse was completed in early 1873, and its beacon went into operation with the opening of navigation that year. Built in a Victorian Gothic style, the 1873 Cleveland Lighthouse is likely the most impressive lighthouse every constructed in the United States. The three-story dwelling and attached eighty-three-foot tower were built of brick and accented with stone trimmings. Originally intended for two keepers, the dwelling was altered in 1886 to provide quarters for a third keeper. In 1909, the dwelling had seventeen rooms. The fixed light produced by the three-and-a-half-order lens atop Cleveland Lighthouse was discontinued with the close of navigation in 1892, its role having been assumed by a breakwater lighthouse.
An act of Congress on May 22, 1926 authorized the Secretary of the Commerce to auction off the keepers' dwelling at Cleveland, and later that year, $50,000 was appropriated for new quarters. To make way for the construction of the Maine Avenue High Level Bridge, the keepers' dwelling was demolished in 1937. "In its removal," the Lake Carriers' Association noted,"there disappeared the last vestige of the imposing structures of architectural beauty that characterized Cleveland’s Main Light for many years." Interestingly, a twin to the Cleveland Main Lighthouse is the Gdansk Lighthouse in Poland. A delegation from Gdansk visited Cleveland Lighthouse while attending the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago and had a similar tower constructed in Poland the following year.
As maritime traffic increased at Cleveland, improvements were made to the city's navigational aids. In 1875, square, pyramidal towers were constructed at the outer ends of the piers bracketing the entrance to the Cuyahoga River. Both towers were painted black on the lower portion and white on the upper portion, but while the west pierhead tower showed a fixed white light varied by a red flash, the east pierhead tower showed a fixed white light above a fixed red light. The west tower also had a frame structure connected to its lakeward side that housed a fog bell. The light on the east pier was changed to a single fixed red light at the opening of navigation in 1886.
In 1900, a new tower was erected on the recently completed west pier, which had been rebuilt using concrete. This wooden tower stood nearly fifty-three feet tall and consisted of a cylinder above a cylinder of greater diameter. The bottom cylinder was covered in corrugated iron and painted red, while the upper cylinder was shingled and painted buff. On June 7, 1917, the steamer J. C. Morse struck and destroyed the cylindrical tower on the west pier while being towed by two tugs. The owners of the tugs paid for a new steel, skeletal tower mounted atop a concrete base. A steel, skeletal tower also replaced the wooden tower on the east pier in 1936.
In 1885, Captain Fred T. Hatch, one of Cleveland’s most illustrious keepers, began serving at the lighthouse on the west breakwater. Hatch had previously served at the nearby lifesaving station and was a recipient of the U.S. Medal of Honor for lifesaving. His lifesaving skills would soon serve him well at his new job. In October of 1890, during one of the windstorms that frequently threatened travelers on Lake Erie, the schooner barge Wahnapitae dragged its anchor and crashed against the breakwater near Hatch’s lighthouse.
Eight people were on board, including Captain Hazen and his wife Catherine, who was serving as cook. As the barge began to break apart, most of the crew tried to jump onto the breakwater. Three men, aided by Captain Hatch, were able to scramble one hundred feet along the breakwater and reach the safe confines of the lighthouse. Captain Hatch then leaped into a small wooden rowboat to attempt the rescue of those still stranded on the sinking barge. However, by the time he reached the battered vessel, only Catherine Hazen remained unclaimed by the water.
Just as he approached the barge, waves swept around Mrs. Hazen. Hatch quickly leaned out, grabbed her, and dragged her into his boat before she could sink out of sight. As he started back to the lighthouse, a huge wave swamped his boat, tossing its two occupants into the lake. Wisely, Hatch had secured one end of a line to the cribwork near the lighthouse before setting off in his boat. With one arm around Mrs. Hazen, Hatch pulled himself along the line back to the breakwater.
Congress appropriated $5,200 on March 2, 1889 for a steam fog signal to replace the fog bell on the breakwater. The resulting ten-inch steam whistle was established on October 30, 1890. As smoke from the industry in Cleveland frequently shrouded the breakwater light, the fog signal was a welcome addition to the harbor entrance.
The fog signal was evidently quite audible as Clevelanders soon became annoyed by the blasts of the whistles. To appease the city's residents, the characteristic of the fog signal was changed to just one three-second blast per minute instead of two, and a reflector was placed around the whistle to direct the sound seaward. In 1903, a twenty-foot-tall, wooden, octagonal substructure was placed beneath the iron tower on the west breakwater to raise its focal plane.
Noting that spurs were being extended into the lake from the east and west breakwaters, effectively extending the entrance to the harbor farther out into Lake Erie, the Lighthouse Board requested $45,000 in 1907 for lighthouses to mark these structures. Congress appropriated the requested amount on May 27, 1908, and Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse, the large structure that remains standing today, commenced operation at the eastern end of the extended western breakwater on March 25, 1911. The conical, cast-iron tower incorporated keeper’s quarters and was fitted with the fourth-order Fresnel lens from the octagonal iron tower, which was equipped instead with a sixth-order light. A twenty-five-foot-tall iron tower with a fifth-order light was placed at the end of the east breakwater spur.
On October 22, 1913, Congress appropriated $17,600 to establish a modern compressed air fog signal adjacent to the new light on the west breakwater spur. Work on the fog signal building, measuring twenty-nine by thirty feet and connected to the tower by a passageway, began in 1915, and the type "F" diaphone fog signal was commissioned on August 18, 1916, the same date the steam whistle was discontinued at the old west breakwater station. The fog signal was affectionately known as the “cow” because of the deep mooing sound it made. In spite of its whimsical name, the whistle was a valuable asset to sailors, as its penetrating signal could be heard for up to twelve miles.
The main lighthouse was automated in 1965, and thirty years later, its Fresnel lens was removed and donated to the Great Lakes Science Center, where it is on display. While most of its companion lights have been replaced with modern structures, the 1911 Cleveland Main Entrance Lighthouse still welcomes vessels to Cleveland.
The lighthouse made national and international news in December 2010, when wind-whipped waves and freezing temperatures combined to encase the structure in a thick coating of ice.
Under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, Cleveland Main Entrance Lighthouse was made available at no cost in 2007 to eligible entities defined as Federal agencies, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations for educational, park, recreational, cultural or historic preservation purposes. After no applications were received, a second Notice of Availability, dated June 28, 2010, was released. Qualifying organizations were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest. The property will be sold if it is not transferred to an eligible party.
Head Keepers: Stephen Woolvertoon (1830 - 1838), George W. Elwell (1838 - 1841), Philo Taylor (1841 - 1843), Richard Hussey (1843 - 1845), Lewis Dibble (1845 - 1849), James Foster (1849 - 1853), Paul Chase (1853 - 1857), James Farasey (1857 - 1861), William H. Taylor (1861 - 1865), George Mann (1865 - 1867), Ernest Wilhelmy (1867 - 1870), C. Coulter (1870 - 1873), Oliver Perry Perdue (1873 - 1881), George Henry Tower (1881 - 1885), Frederick T. Hatch (1885 - 1913), Charles E. Perry (1913- 1940), Samuel E. Crozier (1941 - 1949).
Photo Gallery: 1
Located at the end of the breakwater
on the west side of the entrance
to the Cuyahoga River. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Marilyn Stiborek, used by permission.