History of the Ashtabula Lighthouse

The first Ashtabula lighthouse was constructed in 1836 and was built on a wooden crib approximately 40 feet square with a hexagon shaped tower. A ramp connected the crib to the Ashtabula River’s east pier. Captain Bigelow, as the first lighthouse keeper, kept seven lamps burning using sperm whale oil as fuel. In 1876 a new lighthouse was built on the west pier head because of the construction of new dock facilities. A new Fourth Order Fresnel fixed red light lens was installed in 1876 along with a first class siren fog signal. This four-sided building with wooden clapboard siding in a pyramid shape served the harbor until the present lighthouse was built in 1905 when the Ashtabula River was widened and new dock construction was completed. It was built approximately 2,500 feet north of the river entrance and the 1876 lighthouse. Before the completion of the new 1905 lighthouse, the river-widening project left the 1876 structure sixty feet out into the river and away from the pier. This gave the appearance of a “floating lighthouse.” Later during the construction that 1876 lighthouse actually did float, it was moved off it's island (or the dock) and was placed on a barge until the 1905 lighthouse was completed. Both the old and the new lighthouses could now only be reached by boat by the keepers.

Until 1915 civilian keepers who lived at the Walnut Boulevard house that is presently the Ashtabula Maritime Museum manned the lighthouse. They would alternate duties at the lighthouse and made relief trips by boat. Fayette E. Walworth was appointed keeper on February 6, 1894 and resigned for physical reasons on November 1, 1905. Charles W. Anderson, who replaced Walworth, served until 1915 at which time the lighthouse became the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard.

In 1916 the light was moved approximately 1,750 feet NNE of the previous site. The structure was doubled in size and a new 50-foot concrete crib was built to support it. The two-story building was constructed of steel with iron plate. This new lighthouse was now able to house the light keepers.

The new light had a height of focal plane of 51 feet. A radio beacon tower was also constructed next to the building. An addition to the 1905 stone breakwall was constructed in 1915 from Walnut Beach.The 1916 addition to the 1905 lighthouse, when it was moved, also provided an area which would allow the installation of an emergency generator and a large air compressor with air storage tank to be installed.

In 1927, the steamer Gleneagles of the Canadian Steamship Lines, rammed the lighthouse and drove it back six inches heavily damaging the ship. No injuries were reported.

In 1928, an ice storm imprisoned two keepers in the lighthouse. The Coast Guardsmen had to tunnel through five feet of ice to freedom.

In 1959 the U.S. Coast Guard installed a new Fourth Order Fresnel lens light in the lighthouse. The light rotated and emitted a three second white flash that could be seen as far as 19 miles on a clear night. This light, made in France in 1896, remained in use until 1995 when it was removed and taken by the Coast Guard to be permanently displayed at the Ashtabula Maritime Museum. A foghorn was also installed in the lighthouse that blew two blasts every minute. The National Park Service describes the fog signal in 1994, as an original/siren, Diaphone. In addition, an automatic radio transmitted a dash-dash-dot signal at a specific period. These were important aids to the shipping navigations going to and coming from the harbor. Although the beacon light was electric, operation of the foghorn required immediate supervision.

The lighthouse remained manned by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1973 when it was automated. At that time it was the last remaining light to be manned on Lake Erie.

Comments from 2017

2017 was a slow year as physical activities concerning the lighthouse go, however we still made a good impression on visitors to Ashtabula. During the Wine & Walleye event Bob Frisbie and I narrated boat tours of the Harbor and lower Ashtabula River. As the weather was not cooperative we could not go outside of the harbor but our tour guests were very appreciative of all of the information Bob and I were

able to provide to them. It was a good chance to brush up on my own knowledge of the Ashtabula Harbor and its history. The highlight of the day was an absolutely brilliant sunset, where our guests were able to get some great silhouette shots of the lighthouse and an Ore boat entering the harbor.

In other news I have been able to piece together a partial list of some of the light keepers and their tours of duty at the Ashtabula Lighthouse:

Added to this partial list would be the light keepers that have been a part of ALRPS. Neil Barton (1957-1959), Harry Solomon (1954-1956), others are Rick Chalker, Buck Price, and Bill Knipper. It amazes me that the records of these men are so hard to find when they served in a capacity that was so vital to the Great Lakes and our country.

Earl Tucker