Published May 2022
The iconic Marblehead Lighthouse, one of the most photographed Lake Erie landmarks, will turn 200 years old this year and the entire community is poised to celebrate this momentous occasion. The oldest continuously-operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes has been in operation on the Marblehead Peninsula since 1822, safely guiding boaters along its rocky shorelines.
Built of native limestone, the 50-foot tower was constructed by contractor William Kelly as a navigational aid marking the entrance to Sandusky Bay. The base of the tower is 25 feet in diameter, with walls 5 feet thick, narrowing to 12 feet in diameter at the top with 2-foot-thick walls. The original keepers of the lighthouse had to nightly light 13 whale oil lamps, that used metal reflectors to project light across Lake Erie. The oil lamps needed to be refueled every four hours, consuming more than 11 gallons of oil per night. The keeper was also responsible for keeping a log of passing ships, noting weather conditions, and organizing rescue efforts when needed.
Throughout history, 15 individuals, two of whom were women, were charged with this very important duty until the U.S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility in 1946 and the beacon became fully automated in 1958. This summer, these lighthouse keepers will be honored with life-sized silhouettes placed throughout the Village of Marblehead, sponsored by local organizations and businesses, with text telling the story of each. A possible scavenger hunt contest tied to this project is also in the planning stages for summer 2022.
Just three miles down the road from the lighthouse sits the Wolcott Keeper’s House, also built by William Kelly out of native limestone. This home was the private residence of the first three lighthouse keepers. As the lighthouse celebrates its 200th anniversary, the Keeper’s House will highlight those first keepers of the light, Benajah Wolcott, Rachel Wolcott (the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes), and Jeremiah Van Benschoten. Learn more about their legacies by visiting the Wolcott Keeper’s House, which is open for docent-led tours of the house during the summer months and operated by the Ottawa County Historical Society. Built in the early 1800s, it is a rare example of an original frontier-style stone home. The Ottawa County Historical Society holds many special events throughout the season as well – visit ottawacountyhistory.org for hours of operation and event information.
The Marblehead Lighthouse is now operated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and its grounds are a state park. The Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society, and its nearly 70 volunteers, operate lighthouse tours as well as the on-site museum and gift shop and the replica Coast Guard lifesaving station from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This group is planning a number of activities to commemorate the Bicentennial. Plans are still coming together, but currently three outdoor, picnic-style free concerts are scheduled on the lawn facing the lighthouse. Food trucks will be at the park for the concerts.
- June 18: Moonlight Serenaders, a big band group from Akron
- July 2: Firelands Symphony Orchestra
- August 6: Moonlight Serenaders return with a military-themed concert in honor of Coast Guard Week and National Lighthouse Day (August 7)
The group is also looking to hold smaller concerts as well as movies in the park which may be tied to the opportunity to “climb the light at night” for an additional fee. The Marblehead Peninsula branch of the Ida Rupp Library will be hosting kid’s activities and crafts all summer long, themed after lighthouses. There may also be a craft tent at the park for family activities during tour hours. A new exhibit at the park will feature a small limestone quarry that has long been hidden in a wooded area of the park. This area will be cleared out and fenced in with graphic panels describing quarrying and its importance to the Marblehead Peninsula during the 1800s.
Picnicking, fishing, and sightseeing are encouraged on the grounds from dawn until dusk. In 2021 new restrooms were constructed and 65 additional paved parking spaces were added as a convenience for visitors. A new mural painting now welcomes visitors to the Village of Marblehead, in honor of the 200th anniversary. Painted by local artist and entrepreneur, Rose Lucas Haninger, the mural is on the Radar Park building which is visible when you enter the village on SR 163, across from the U.S. Post Office. Also watch for new utility pole banners welcoming guests to the village and additional activities held throughout the season all around the peninsula. Information on Bicentennial events and on visiting the lighthouse can be found at marbleheadlighthouseohio.org/200th.
The Bicentennial celebration will culminate with the annual Lakeside-Marblehead Lighthouse Festival, held on October 8, 2022.
Be sure to visit this Lake Erie icon in 2022 and be a part of the celebration!