The sky was the most brilliant blue, with just a few wisps of white clouds, as I reached the top of the 77 steps that led to the observation deck on the top of the Marblehead Lighthouse. I could see the outline of Cedar Point Amusement Park six miles across Sandusky Bay, where my family and I had spent the previous two days. The quiet serenity surrounding the lighthouse was a sharp contrast to all the hustle and bustle of the amusement park.
After going on rides for two days, it was time for something a little less intense. We decided on an afternoon at the Marblehead Lighthouse. Built in 1821, it is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation in the Great Lakes region. It is a popular place for tourists; about 1 million people visit the lighthouse each year. It also is one of the most frequently photographed places in Ohio.
On our way to the Marblehead Peninsula, we stopped at the Firelands Winery to sample some wine (the kids enjoyed grape juice). Established in 1880, Firelands Winery is one of Ohio's oldest wineries and the largest winery in the state. The vineyards are located on the nearby Lake Erie Islands.
Marblehead Lighthouse State Park was established in 1998, one of the newest state parks in Ohio. Tours of the tower are offered weekday afternoons, Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as on the second Saturday of the month, May to October. Only a limited number of people are allowed up in the tower at a time.
Our guide told us the first lighthouse keeper was Benajah Wolcott, a Revolutionary War veteran. Every evening, Wolcott climbed the stairs and would light 13 whale oil lamps in the original lighthouse, which had metal reflectors to project the light into the night sky. As part of his duties, Wolcott also kept a log of passing ships and noted the weather.
Wolcott died after contracting cholera during the 1832 epidemic, after he insisted on giving Christian burials to epidemic victims whose bodies washed up on the lakeshore by the lighthouse after others had dumped them in the lake. After his death, his wife, Rachel, was appointed lighthouse keeper; she was the first woman lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.
Our tour group slowly ascended the spiral stairs to the top of the tower. Once we reached the top, it was time to soak in the view and snap photos. On a clear day, you can even make out the outline of a few buildings of the Cleveland skyline, 60 miles away. We could also see Perry's Monument, about 10 miles away in Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. We didn't have time to visit Put-in-Bay on this trip, but it is said to be a nice resort community and worth seeing.
After carefully climbing back down the stairs, we headed to the adjacent museum, located in an 1880s-era house that once served as the keeper's home. The museum, which was opened in 2000, has artifacts, photos and documents focusing on the history of the lighthouse and of the Marblehead Peninsula. Some of the displays include a 3 1/2 order Fresnel lens, the last lens of that type to be used in the lighthouse, displays on local industry and of the Marblehead railroad system. A small museum shop features nautical-themed items and lighthouse souvenirs.
Two miles down the road, we visited the original stone lighthouse keeper's house, which was built by Benajah Wolcott in the early 1820s. This limestone house is possibly the oldest dwelling in northwestern Ohio.
Docents from the Ottawa County Historical Society are on hand to tell visitors about the Wolcott family and their home. While there was a keeper's house right by the lighthouse, Wolcott's main residence was this limestone home.
While some services wind down after Labor Day, there is reason to visit in the fall. The annual Lakeside/Marblehead Lighthouse Festival takes place Oct. 9, featuring a Civil War encampment, hearth cooking demonstrations, blacksmiths, woodcarvers and other old-time professions.
If you go:
To get to Marblehead Lighthouse State Park (419-734-4424; 110 Lighthouse Drive, Marblehead, Ohio): Take Interstate 90 West and, after passing through Cleveland, exit on State Route 2; take 2 to State Route 269 North (East Harbor, Kelleys Island, Marblehead, Lakeside Exit), stay in left lane on SR 269 for approximately 2 miles; at the traffic signal, turn right onto SR163. The park is approximately seven miles, on left side, after town of Marblehead.
*Firelands Winery (419-625-5474; www.firelandswinery.com) 917 Bardshar Road, Sandusky, Ohio.
*The Keepers House (419-798-9339; www.thekeepershouse.org ) 9999 E. Bayshore Road, Marblehead, Ohio.
*Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce (419-734-9777; www.marbleheadpeninsula.com) 5681 E. Harbor Road, Marblehead, Ohio.