Enjoy a getaway to Ohio’s MarbleheadPeninsula
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 in Marblehead, Ohio. I could see the outline of Cedar Point Amusement Park six miles across SanduskyBay, 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 to do something a little less intense. Since our family enjoys visiting lighthouses, we decided that an afternoon at the Marblehead Lighthouse should definitely be on our agenda. Built in 1821, the still active lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation in the Great Lakes region. It is a very popular place for tourists; about 1 million people visit the lighthouse each year. In addition, it is one of the most frequently photographed places in Ohio.
On our way to the Marblehead Peninsula we stopped at the Firelands Winery, where my husband and I sampled some wine, while our kids enjoyed grape juice. Established in 1880, Firelands Winery is one of Ohio’s oldest wineries, as well as the largest winery in the state. The vineyards are located on the nearby Lake ErieIslands.
After a short drive, we reached the lighthouse, which is located in MarbleheadLighthouseState Park. Established in 1998, it is one of the newest state parks in Ohio. We were fortunate enough to get on the next scheduled tour when we arrived at the lighthouse; only a limited number of people are allowed up in the tower at a time. Tours are offered weekday afternoons, Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as on the second Saturday of the month, May to October.
Our guide began the tour by telling us a bit of lighthouse history. 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 light, 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.
Tragically, Wolcott died after contracting cholera during the 1832 epidemic, after he insisted on giving Christian burials to the bodies of epidemic victims which washed up on the lake shore by the lighthouse. Back then, often the bodies of epidemic victims were simply dumped into the lake. After his death, his wife, Rachel, was appointed lighthouse keeper; the first woman lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.
Our tour group then slowly began ascending the spiral stairs to the top of the tower. Once we reached the top, we took our time soaking in the view and snapping 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 ten miles away in Put-in-Bay on SouthBassIsland. We didn’t have time to visit Put-in-Bay on this trip, but it’s suppose to be a really nice resort community, so we will have to check it out the next time we are in the area.
After carefully climbing back down the stairs, we headed to the adjacent museum located in an 1880’s era house, which 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 MarbleheadPeninsula. Some of the displays include a 3 ½ 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.
Afterwards, we drove two miles down the road to visit the original stone lighthouse keepers house, which was built by Benajah Wolcott in the early 1820’s. 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 keepers house right by the lighthouse, Wolcott’s main residence was this limestone home.
The Keepers House is open Monday-Friday 1-5pm, June 1 to the end of August and during special weekend events during the summer, including Music in the Firelands on Saturday July 10, which features live entertainment, foods like fresh Lake Erie perch sandwiches and homemade pie, and a number of other activities.
The annual Lakeside/Marblehead Lighthouse Festival which takes place Saturday October 9 features a Civil War encampment, hearth cooking demonstrations, blacksmiths, woodcarvers, and other old-time professions.
Firelands Winery (419-625-5474; www.firelandswinery.com) 917 Bardshar Road, Sandusky, Ohio.
MarbleheadLighthouseState Park (419-734-4424) 110 Lighthouse Drive, Marblehead, Ohio
The Keepers House (419-798-9339; www.thekeepershouse.org ) 9999 E. Bayshore Rd., Marblehead, Ohio
Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce (419-734-9777; www.marbleheadpeninsula.com) 5681 E. Harbor Rd.., Marblehead, Ohio.