Get a sneak peek at the rich history of this Northwest Ohio wonder as we celebrate its 200th anniversary.
Although the same lighthouse has shown the way around the rocky shores of the Marblehead peninsula for two centuries, it really didn’t start to resemble its current state until the late 1800s.
In 1822, Benajah Wolcott, who was reported as the first keeper of the lighthouse, then referred to as the Sandusky Bay Lighthouse, kept a home on the lighthouse property so that he could tend to what was then a whale-oil light. His family also had a limestone house about two-and-a-half miles away.
After its first half-century, the lighthouse and adjacent keeper’s house were getting a little long in the tooth. In fact, the home was in such disrepair that the keeper at the time, George McGee, had constructed a one-room shack and was living in that with his family. “The house is not habitable in cold weather and is unfit for use as a dwelling at any time,” an inspector wrote in 1878. Within two years, construction had started on a new home, which had seven rooms and a basement, and could accommodate not just a keeper, but an assistant as well for what was becoming one of the most important lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
It was also one of the most dangerous spots on the Great Lakes, with a variety of shipwrecks and groundings. In 1876, a Life-Saving Station was built near the lighthouse, two years before the creation of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a forerunner to the Coast Guard, which took over lighthouse operation after World War II.
The lighthouse is automated today, and it remains a popular tourist attraction — as well as one of the most photographed landmarks in Ohio. The nearby keeper’s house is now a museum, housing a variety of memorabilia, including the Fresnel lens that guided ships for decades. In 2016, a replica of the life-saving station was built on the property, and 2 miles away is Wolcott’s family home. The keeper’s house is the oldest residence still standing in Ottawa County.