3 Ohio Lighthouses Are Open to Visitors

By Downing, Bob | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

3 Ohio Lighthouses Are Open to Visitors


Downing, Bob, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


SOUTH BASS ISLAND, Ohio - Most visitors to party-happy Put-in- Bay don't realize that there is an old lighthouse on the island, one with its own ghosts.

The South Bass Light Station is tucked on the island's southwest corner. It's not far from the Miller Boat Line Ferry dock. But most ferry passengers head the other way, into town for fun at one of Ohio's top travel destinations.

The red-brick lighthouse with its 60-foot-high tower operated from July 1897 to October 1962 at a site called Parker's Point off Langram Road in Put-in-Bay Township. For those 65 years, it operated from early March through late December, the Lake Erie shipping season.

Its lens could produce a fixed red signal visible for up to 13 miles from its bluff-top location. It never had a fog signal or horn.

It is located between the lighthouse on Green Island to the west and the Marblehead Lighthouse to the east. It helped guide boats on the southern passage through the Lake Erie islands between Sandusky and Port Clinton.

The 10-sided lantern reportedly came from Gibraltar, Mich., and the Fresnel lens from France. It was originally fueled with oil, later converted to electricity.

It is owned by Ohio State University and is listed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. The university acquired the lighthouse, outbuildings and 3 acres of land in 1967 from the federal government. It has used the property with nearly 900 feet of shoreline in support of academic programs at Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island at Put-in-Bay.

The lighthouse was replaced in 1962 by the U.S. Coast Guard with an automated light in a scaffolding-like tower next to the old lighthouse. The lens was removed and is now found in the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum in Put-in-Bay.

The South Bass Light Station is different from your typical lighthouse; it's attached to a stylish 2-story Queen Anne-style house with red bricks and a slate roof. There are three bedrooms, a full basement and antiques from the Cooke Mansion on Gibraltar Island.

Jay Cooke was President Abraham Lincoln's Civil War financier. He built his 15-room mansion on Gibraltar Island in 1865. Today it is slowly being refurbished.

The South Bass Light Station looks the same as it always has, except for the addition of screened-in porches.

Many of the historical records associated with the lighthouse were lost in a fire at a storage facility in Washington, D.C.

Lake Erie is eroding the bluffs and inching its way toward the old lighthouse, where reports of ghosts frequently pop up. The most likely candidate for the wayward spirit is reportedly Harry Riley, the first lighthouse keeper, who went insane and died in a state hospital in 1899.

Another possibility is island visitor Harry Anderson, who was quarantined because of an outbreak of smallpox and committed suicide by jumping from a dock into Lake Erie in 1898.

The South Bass Lighthouse is one of only three Lake Erie lighthouses open to visitors. There are 19 old lighthouses on the lake in Ohio.

It has been open to the public since 2007. It is 42 steps to the top, and the last eight are not easy as you maneuver through the opening in the wooden deck.

The best views from atop the lighthouse are to the south: three miles across the lake to Catawba Island. Port Clinton is to the west and Marblehead to the east.

Tours are available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays from June to August. You can also arrange a tour from April through November. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children 6 to 12. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk for free.

Property markers are stone slabs with the letters: USLHE for United States Light House Establishment, a federal agency created in 1789 by the first Congress. …

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