Marblehead Lighthouse, the Early Years

The Marblehead Lighthouse is the longest operating lighthouse on the US side of the Great Lakes.

The 15th US Congress, in 1819, found the need for navigation aides in and around the Great Lakes. They created a $5,000 budget to build a lighthouse at the entrance of the Sandusky Bay in Lake Erie. William Kelly, in 1821, with locals Amos Feena and William Smith built the fifty foot lighthouse with the available local limestone. It was located on the very tip of the Marblehead Peninsula.

Before the light was automated fifteen separate keepers, including two women, operated the lighthouse. First was Revolutionary War veteran Benajah Wolcott who was one of the first settlers in the area. In 1821 the tower and keeper’s house were completed and Wolcott and his family moved in. Every night Wolcott had to light 13 whale oil lamps that comprised the original light fixture including also the metal reflectors which projected the light across the lake.

The keeper was also required to log passing ships, the weather conditions and even organize rescue efforts if necessary.

Wolcott passed away in 1832 and his wife Rachel took over his duties which she passed on to her next husband Jeremiah VanBenschoter.

In 1858 the lighthouse was upgraded from 13 whale oil lamps to a single kerosene lantern whose light was magnified by a Fresnel lens. This is a special curved glass lens that helps to create a high visibility, dense white light.

In 1888 the original Keeper’s House was the present-day Keeper’s House, which is a larger, wooden frame home

In 1876, west of the lighthouse, a lifesaving station was built. Just about a half mile away. Lucien Clemons was the first person in put in charge of the station after he and his brothers saved two sailors from a shipwreck in the area.