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 Lorain, OH    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.
Description: Lorain, Ohio, saw its first navigation light in the form of a lantern hung 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 river, and eight lamps, fueled by lard oil and set in fifteen-inch reflectors, were used to produce a fixed light. Though unassuming, the beacon shone brightly enough to be noticed by Charles Dickens as he sailed from Sandusky to Cleveland in 1841.

Beacon light built in 1836
Photograph courtesy National Archives
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."

Over the first forty years the light was in service, sand deposits built up along the pier, effectively moving the light closer to the shoreline. In 1875, the cylindrical brick tower, in which a fourth-order Fresnel lens had been installed in 1857, was torn down and replaced by a square, pyramidal tower at the end of a new 600-foot extension to the pier. The replacement tower was built of wood, stood forty-six feet tall, and was topped by a decagonal lantern room. The new light went into service on September 18, 1875 and was connected to the shore by an elevated walk that the keeper could use when waves washed over the pier.

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. This structure was struck by a vessel being towed out of the harbor on August 16, 1895, but the beacon was rebuilt and relighted eight days later.

Pierhead light placed on pier in 1875
Photograph courtesy National Archives
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 in April 1912 with steel, skeletal towers, topped by acetylene lights.

On February 21, 1912, the rear range tower on the west pier was blown off a temporary foundation on which it had been placed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, and damages of $887.61 were paid by the railroad company. With the establishment of the acetylene light to mark the west breakwater, the rear range light on the pier was discontinued, as the light at the outer end of the pier now functioned as a range with the breakwater light.

Congress finally provided $35,000 on October 22, 1913 for a proper 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 a diaphone fog signal was commissioned on May 13, 1919.

The massive, three-story lighthouse was designed to withstand the tempestuous weather of Lake Erie. From the northeast corner of the structure, a square tower, topped by a helical-bar lantern room, extends just above the pitched roof. The basement of the lighthouse contained a cistern, coal bin, and storage space. A power room, bathroom, and storeroom were located on the first floor, while a living room, pantry, bedrooms, and a tank room were found on the second floor. The third floor had space for the diaphones, a timing device, water tank, and stairs leading to the lantern room.

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.

Range lights on west pier in 1911
Photograph courtesy National Archives
Keeper Olin W. Stevens was awarded a lighthouse efficiency flag for having the best-kept station in the district in 1922, and the following year, he was commended for rescuing 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 assisted 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, erected at its western tip, took over the function of lighting the harbor entrance in 1965. No longer needed, Lorain Lighthouse lost its last crew and was slated for demolition by the Coast Guard. After vandals broke into the abandoned lighthouse and stole its two brass foghorns, the Coast Guard welded the entrance shut to keep out unwelcome visitors. Looking more like a fortress than ever, Lorain Lighthouse silently 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, a congressman, and the Coast Guard. Thanks to Conn's negotiating, as well as fierce winter weather, the demolition plans were postponed until the spring of 1967, and 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 of the sale spread quickly and even went world wide, as a vacationing couple from Lorain saw an ad for the lighthouse in a Parisian newspaper.

Lorain Lighthouse without breakwater
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
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. Finally, in 1977, the Lorain Historical Society was given the deed to lighthouse in exchange for $1. The following year, the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the fall of 1981, "Operation Lighthouse" was executed to refurbish the lighthouse. 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 cracks in the base of the lighthouse were noticed, an underwater examination of the foundation was performed in 1987. The building itself was also inspected and found to need $700,000 in repairs. Shortly thereafter, control of the lighthouse passed to the Port of Lorain Foundation, a non-profit foundation established to preserve both the lighthouse and Lorain's waterfront. The foundation received several grants to help fund the restoration, and local school children raised over $5,000 in a "Pounds of Pennies" campaign, but it was the federal government that picked up most of the tab with $500,000 being provided by a House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.

The Army Corps of Engineers restored the lighthouse and stabilized its foundation in the 1990s at a cost of $850,000, quite a bit more than the $35,000 spent to build the structure in 1917.

The lighthouse's 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. After $20,000 was spent on cleaning and restoring it, the lens was placed on display in the lobby of the offices of the Lorain Port Authority at Black River Landing in March 2014. The lens is one of the few manufactured by an American company - the MacBeth-Evans Glass Company of Pittsburgh.

Now dark and quiet, Lorain Lighthouse, the "Jewel of the Port," faithfully guards the entrance to the inner harbor and 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).

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. "History of Lorain Lighthouse," The Black River Historical Society.
  5. "History of the Lorain Lighthouse," Lorain Public Library System.

Location: Located at the end of the western breakwater in the harbor at Lorain.
Latitude: 41.47784
Longitude: -82.19041

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


Travel Instructions: From Highway 6 in Lorain just west of the Black River, turn north onto Broadway and follow it to the piers where you will get a distant view of the light. There is a gap in the harbor breakwater, which prevents access to the lighthouse by foot.

Lighthouse Tours are offered by the Lorain Port Authority.

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

Find the closest hotels to Lorain Lighthouse

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.

Our captain informed us that the lighthouse has a very obvious lean to the east. This, he explained, is due to a freighter striking the pier beneath the lighthouse several years ago.


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