Lighthouses in Pennsylvania? Really? Most people wouldn’t think of Pennsylvania as a stop on a lighthouse tour but, in far northwest Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie, there are three.
The Erie Land Lighthouse: Located in Land Lighthouse Park in downtown Erie, the present Erie Land Lighthouse was restored and rededicated in 2004. It was originally called the Presque Isle Light Station and renamed the Erie Light Station in 1870 when the Presque Isle Lighthouse was commissioned. Constructed in 1818 on a mainland bluff overlooking the eastern entrance to the Erie harbor, the original 20-foot tall stone Erie Land Light was the first American lighthouse on the Great Lakes. (New York disputes that claim, and controversy exists as to whether the Erie Land Light or the first Buffalo Main Light was the first; both are recorded as being built in 1818.)
Captain John Bone, the first keeper, lived in the tiny keeper’s cottage for 14 years with his wife and six children. The light’s illumination was provided by nine-foot-tall iron lanterns housing ten lamps and reflectors. The tower was replaced twice, in 1857 and 1868, when quicksand caused the lighthouse to settle. The third lighthouse was a 49-foot Berea sandstone tower. After the new Presque Isle Lighthouse was erected in 1873, the Lighthouse Board discontinued and dismantled the Erie Land Light in 1880. The public protested, however, and by 1885, the lighthouse was reconstructed and reactivated, with a new revolving third-order Fresnel lens. The light was finally extinguished in 1899 and in 1901, the lens and lantern room were moved to the Marblehead Lighthouse in Ohio.
After years of neglect, on December 26, 1999, 100 years from the day it was last extinguished, a ceremonial relighting was held at the lighthouse. After extensive restoration and repairs, the lighthouse was rededicated in 2004, complete with a new state historical marker. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 30, 1978. Visit this site for directions and more details.
North Pierhead Lighthouse: Located on the north side of the Erie Harbor channel entrance at the eastern end of Presque Isle State Park. The first Erie Pierhead Lighthouse was built in 1830, constructed of wood, and destroyed in 1857 when a gale blew a schooner into it, knocking it from the pier. The current 34-foot tower was constructed in France of cast iron plates, and housed a fourth-order Fresnel lens which shone a fixed red beam until 1995, when the Fresnel lens was replaced by a solar powered optic. The beacon is unique among surviving U.S. lighthouses, now exhibiting a flashing red light. The original lens is on display at the Erie Maritime Museum. The lighthouse has been moved twice (1882 and 1940) as the length of the pier changed. The black-banded white tower is alternately called the Presque Isle North Pierhead Lighthouse or the Erie Harbor Pierhead Light. Fifteen keepers served the light from 1833 to 1910; the keeper’s house is now part of the Coast Guard station. Visit this site for directions and more details.
Presque Isle Lighthouse: Located on Presque Isle, this lighthouse was completed in 1873 to replace the Erie Land Light. With a brick tower “five courses thick,” it was designed for protection against Lake Erie’s ferocious storms, one of which sank a scow carrying 6,000 bricks to construct the lighthouse. In 1882, the lighthouse was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens. The keeper’s residence is attached to the tower and is now lived in by park personnel.
Charles Waldo, the first keeper, called the station the “loneliest place on earth.” Until a concrete road to the station was completed in 1925, the keepers and their families had to walk a 1.5 mile pathway/boardwalk over marshy terrain, row across the bay to reach the mainland, then walk to their destination. Waldo’s daughter Mary, born at the lighthouse in 1876, was the first child to be born on Presque Isle.
In 1896, the tower was raised to 57-feet and electricity was added in 1924. When Presque Isle became a state park in 1921, the keeper since 1901, Andrew Shaw Jr., “abruptly retired” because of the tourists. Unlike Waldo, he apparently preferred the solitude. The station is now fully automated and maintained by the Coast Guard. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 4, 1983. Visit this site for directions and more details.
Sources: Lighthouses of NW Pa; Erie Land Light; Erie Land Light at US Lighthouses.com; Presque Isle Lights; North Pier Light at US Lighthouses.com; Presque Isle Lighthouse at US Lighthouses.com