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Marblehead Lighthouse in Marblehead, Ohiomarker, United Statesmarker, is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the United States side of the Great Lakesmarker. It has guided sailors safely along the rocky shores of Marblehead Peninsula since 1822, and is an active aid to navigation.


In 1819, the fifteenth U. S. Congress recognized the need for navigational aides along the Great Lakesmarker, and set aside $5,000 for construction of a light tower at the entrance to Sandusky Baymarker. Contractor William Kelly built the 50 foot (15 m) tower of native limestone on the tip of the Marblehead Peninsula. The base of the tower is 25 feet (7.6 m) in diameter, with walls five feet (1.5 m) thick. It narrows to 12 feet (4 m) at the top with two-foot (0.6 m) thick walls.

Through history, 15 lighthouse keepers, two of whom were women, have tended the beacon. The first keeper was Benajah Wolcott, a Revolutionary War veteran and one of the first settlers on the peninsula. He and his family lived in a small stone home on the Sandusky Bay side of the peninsula. Each night, he lit the wicks of the 13 whale oil lamps that were the original light fixture. Sixteen inch (406 mm) diameter metal reflectors helped project the light across the lake. Other duties of the lighthouse keeper included keeping a log of passing ships, noting the weather conditions, and organizing rescue efforts. Upon Wolcott's death in 1832, his wife, Rachel, took over these duties.

The whale oil lamps were replaced in 1858 by the light from a single kerosene lantern magnified by a Fresnel lens. This specialized, curved glass lens created a highly visible, fixed white light.

A lifesaving station was built one-half mile (800 m) west of the lighthouse in 1876. Lucien Clemons, who with his two brothers saved two sailors from a shipwreck off the peninsula on May 1, 1875, was named the first commander. In 1880, the lighthouse keeper's household moved to a wooden frame home in a more convenient location, next to the lighthouse.

The turn of the century ushered in new technology as well as structural changes including the addition of another 15 feet (4.6 m) to the tower’s height. A clock-like mechanism was installed to rotate the lantern, creating the appearance of a brilliant flash of light every 10 seconds. This system required that the lighthouse keeper crank the weights every three hours through the night to keep the lantern turning. An improved Fresnel lens with prism surfaces created an even more brilliant beacon.

An electric light finally replaced the kerosene lantern in 1923, dramatically increasing the intensity of the signal. During World War II, the lighthouse became strategically important for national defense. The last civilian lighthouse keeper resigned, and the United States Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the beacon in 1946.

The beacon was automated in 1958. With its original finish tattered by time and harsh weather, the exterior of the lighthouse tower was given a fresh coat of new stucco the same year.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has maintained the property surrounding the lighthouse since 1972 and accepted ownership of the Marblehead Lighthouse tower in May 1998. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to operate and maintain the lighthouse beacon. Today’s 300 mm lens projects a green signal that flashes every six seconds and is visible for 11 nautical miles (20 km). The distinctive green distinguishes the lighthouse signal from white lights coming from air beacons.

Marblehead Lighthouse was one of five lighthouses chosen for the "Lighthouses of the Great Lakes" series postage stamp designed by Howard Koslow in 1995. There was one lighthouse chosen on each of the Great Lakesmarker. The five lighthouses are Split Rock Lightmarker on Lake Superiormarker, St Joseph Light on Lake Michiganmarker, Spectacle Reef Lightmarker on Lake Huronmarker, Marblehead Light (Ohio) on Lake Eriemarker and Thirty Mile Point Lightmarker on Lake Ontariomarker.

In 2001-2002 the state renovated the tower and keeper's house at a cost of $500,000. In 2004 the Fresnel lens was returned to the light station from the Marblehead Coast Guard Station, where it was previously on display. The Ottawa County Historical Society owns the original 1-story fieldstone keeper's house (3 miles (5 km) from the light on OH 163 in Marbleheadmarker. Located on OH 163 east of Lakeside.

Marblehead Lighthouse State Park

The lighthouse is now part of the 9 acre Marblehead Lighthouse State Park. The park features picnic tables and offers views of Lake Eriemarker, Sandusky Baymarker, Kelleys Islandmarker and South Bass Islandmarker. The Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society operates the Marblehead Lighthouse Museum in the old keeper's house. Exhibits include the lighthouse, a Fresnel lens, ice harvesting, ice fishing, local maritime industry, ships, local fossils and shipwrecks.

Visitors can take tours of the lighthouse tower in the summer. The museum is open when tours are available.

This light is a persistent subject of artwork. See e.g., Drawing of Marblehead Light.


  1. Rowlett, Russ, Lighthouse Directory, Ohio Lighthouses, Marblehead Light, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Stamp images, Great Lakes Lighthouses.
  3. Postage stamp artwork, Marblehead Lighthouse Stamp.
  4. Postage stamp artwork, Spectacle Reef Lighthouse Stamp.
  5. Rowlett, Russ, Lighthouse Directory, Ohio Lighthouses, Marblehead Light, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Further reading

  • Harrison, Timothy, Keeper's Corner Tid-bits from the Tower: Saving the Lights (July, 1998) Lighthouse Digest.
  • Oleszewski, Wes. Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998) ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
  • U.S. Coast Guard. Historically Famous Lighthouses (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1957).
  • Wright, Larry and Wright, Patricia. Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia Hardback (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006) ISBN 1550463993

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