Marine News from the Great Lakes

An Icon of Western Lake Erie being Restored to her Original Glory!

Published: Thursday, March 5, 2015


Some of my fondest memories growing up were the many perch and walleye fishing trips with my Father Jim and Uncle Jerry in western Lake Erie. We would head out either Cooley canal or Cullen Park depending upon the weather, wind direction, and where the fish were hitting. The vastness of Lake Erie on a small boy makes a great impression and I often pondered how my Uncle knew his way back to the dock way out on the Lake. I always thought that the lighthouse was one of his secret weapons in navigating back (I have since learned many of the other reference points he used) and I heard it called the “Outer Light” by my family for years. I grew to really love the beauty of the “Outer Light” and I often fantasized about one day piloting my own boat out to the grand lighthouse and climbing her stairs to take in the great view of Lake Erie that she provided.


It is funny how boyhood fantasies sometimes get to come true. It was a clear & Sunny day last in June of 2014 when I was cruising down the Maumee River from Perrysburg to downtown Toledo jumping wakes of the biggest cabin cruisers I could find. Searching out bigger waves and wakes to hit I continued down the river until I was blasting out the shipping channel. It was getting a little rough for a jet ski and I pondered turning around when out in the distance I could just make out the Toledo Harbor Light in hot hazy afternoon light. I decided I would make a run for the old long abandoned lighthouse! It was quite a surprise when…as I closed the gap to about half way. I began to see what appeared to be people standing on the very top of the lighthouse upper deck. Was the Coast guard doing an inspection of the light? As I got closer I saw a people were everywhere. They were on the dock, in the Foyer, & walking around the catwalk around the upper part of the light itself. Huh. Maybe, I can get into that old Lighthouse myself today! So I slowly motored up and asked what all the fuss was about.


The people on the Lighthouse crib told me they were members of the Toledo Harbor Light Preservation Society (TLHPS) and they were working to restore the Lighthouse. “Wow—that’s great” I said excitedly.” Can I come up & get a tour?” They said they would love to give me a tour, but only THLPS members are insured to be there, and only way they could do it is I would have to first join as a THLPS member. “Great, how much are the memberships” I asked. They started with the single membership of $20.00 and were continuing to discuss the many other options when I pulled out a soggy twenty dollar bill and said: “Sign me up” with a big smile on my face as I was finally gonna get to see the old “Outer Light” up close & personal! So began a new fascination with an old love…the old Outer Light. Now it was “officially” known as the Toledo Harbor Light to me and I began to learn about its history through the equally committed THLPS membership that truly loves this Light. 


The Toledo Lighthouse had an original congressional appropriation of $75,000 in 1898, but that was increased to $110,000 to complete the lighthouse which was dedicated May 23, 1904. The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse is a 69 foot high, three story buff colored brick, structural steel and concrete Romanesque designed building with seventy windows and a top cylindrical window surrounding the lantern. The original classic 3.5 order Fresnel lens (now on display at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge in Oregon, OH 24 hours a day/7 days a week) was replaced by a solar powered prismatic beacon in 1995. The original lens could be seen up to 24 miles away while the new lens is visible up to ten miles. The lighthouse sits on a 20’ deep crib with a concrete pier surrounding the lighthouse. The most striking feature of the lighthouse is its roof , with rounded edges designed much like the hull of the lake freighters , that pass by on their way to the Maumee River & Toledo’s port. On a clear day, the Detroit River, West & Middle Sister Islands and the entire Michigan & Ohio shorelines of Maumee Bay are visible.


The lighthouse was originally inhabited by a married couple until the Coast Guard took over their responsibilities on July 1, 1939. By 1965 the lighthouse was no longer occupied, in 1966 the light was automated, and in the 1980’s there was even discussion of tearing down the lighthouse & replacing it with a range light. There was widespread opposition to demolition and in 1989 the federal government shored up the base of the lighthouse and placed concrete blocks in the first floor windows and main doorways and added a steel door entrance in the annex. The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed in 2003 to preserve, restore, & provide public outreach for this historic Western Lake Erie landmark.


The TLHPS’s 1.5M Strategic Restoration plan is structured in 3 phases each of which accounts for approximately $500,000. In Phase One the society will focus efforts on securing the exterior building integrity including brick tucking, windows, and doors. A major source of funding for phase 1 comes from their “My Toledo Lighthouse Window” campaign where donors donate from $750-$2,500 to “buy” a specific lighthouse window. They get a special nameplate marking the window in their honor as part of the campaign. Over $50,000 has been raised so far with the goal being $138,000 for a matching grant. Phase two will focus on restoring electrical, plumbing, water & wastewater to the interior, In phase three the focus will be interior trimming including painting, rails, trim, & furnishings. Once restoration is complete, TLHPS plans to staff the lighthouse seasonally with Lighthouse keepers who can be reached via a posted cellphone number for boaters who want to schedule a tour.


How great will that day be for Lake Erie boaters? Out on a nice cruise with family & friends, pick up your cell, and schedule your own personal tour of the Lake Erie Lighthouse! It’s a reality that is just a few short summers away but we need the support of the fantastic Lake Erie boating community to make this a reality. The THLPS operates almost exclusively on the generosity of our members and donors, although we do actively seek out & win government grants to fulfill our mission, however we need YOUR support. We all know what a fun loving & generous group the boating community is and I look forward to your support and participation of our restoration efforts. Here are some ways you can help:

1) Join us as a member at

2) Sponsor a window in the My Lighthouse campaign

3) Ask us to present at your local Yacht Club Meeting

4) Come to our Lighthouse Festival @ Maumee Bay State Park

   July 11-12th, 2015 this summer. (Boat tours to Lighthouse available then)

5) Recommend TLHPS for corporate sponsorship where you work

6) Attend a TLHPS meeting the last Thursday of every month @

   Maumee Bay State Park.



All of us at the Toledo Harbor Light Preservation Society are looking forward with great anticipation to completing Phase One of our restoration plans in 2015 and looking forward to the day you call us from your boat to arrange a tour of the Toledo Harbor Light. If you are not lucky enough to be able to see the Lighthouse up close & personal by boat, you can always view it from the Maumee Bay State Park, where there is a viewer on shore. Public boat trips to tour the lighthouse will be available both during the Lighthouse festival and also during the Antique Boat Show in downtown Toledo this summer. Be safe & have fun on the water this year!


tags: Lake Erie

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