The Erie Land Lighthouse

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            High on a cliff over-looking Lake Erie and the channel, which leads into PA’s only port city – Erie, Pennsylvania, stands a stone lighthouse.  People come from all over the world to see her.  There are stories told by old salts recorded in the archives of history of the days when her light shone far out to the horizon leading them into safe harbor.  It was their guiding light.  There is a romance about her, an emotional feeling when one first sees her that she, like the old sailors, could tell you stories about those who lived in the keeper’s house and of the families who cared for her, or of the children who played on the grounds, careful not to fall over the steep cliff which led down perilous rocks to the fisherman’s huts built on the East Pier.  Way back in 1818, the keeper would enter the oil house, climb the steps leading to the top, light the oil and stand looking out over the lake to see if our ships were coming in at dusk.  Erie was a busy fishing and commercial port.  Back in the early 1800’s the government commissioned The Erie Lighthouse and it was said to be the first stone lighthouse on the five Great Lakes.  The prism was glass, cut to disperse light beams made by the fire.

            The lantern had lenses & reflectors for 10 lamps which could hold a two-year supply of oil – which, back then, was the heavy oil of the whale.

              To accommodate the families of the lighthouse keeper, the government built a one-story brick dwelling of three small rooms.  Records show that it may have cost $7,500.

              Problems with the first lighthouse were noted.  Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it began to sink and lean as the years went by, and fearful of it toppling over, the decision was made to tear it down and replace it with a new one.   This was in 1857.  Alas, the new brick building was to last but 10 years and it, too, had to be demolished as the foundation began to crumble.

              In 1867 it was obvious that a new location was needed.  The engineers decided to move it about 200 feet east of the original site and here they carefully dug down 20 feet, layered the hole with solid oak timbers, a ton of finely crushed limestone, and covered it with Portland cement.  When that was accomplished, they were ready to build the third and last Land Lighthouse, the one you see today.  Berea sandstone replaced the brick.  There are 69 steps which lead to the top and there the enclosure for the prism was sturdily built.  Trees on the cliff edge were cut so that there was a fine view from far out on the water of the beam of light which they sought.

              Thirteen years later (1880) the 10th Lighthouse District Commission decided that the light should go out forever.  The public protested the decision and they were heard.  It was the Congress of the United States who announced that $7000 would be appropriated for the reestablishment of the Lighthouse.

              On December 26, 1899, the lighthouse keeper put out the light for the last time. The Federal government transferred the lens (the prism) to the Marblehead Lighthouse in Sandusky, Ohio.   It wasn’t until 1934 that the Federal government gave the deed of protectorship to the City of Erie rather than have it go to a private citizen … but neglect was evident to everyone who looked at her.  In the mid-1970’s, she was cleaned and a new tower with an iron fence was built.  The City of Erie searched and found money to restore the old Lantern House for the Lighthouse keepers of the property, and thanks to a Federal Lighthouse Bicentennial Fund for Local Community Development, the restoration was completed by 1991.

              On display at the nearby Erie County Historical Society exhibit room, there sits a magnificent fresnel lens, a Bicentennial gift from the U. S. Coast Guard.  It’s been almost 100 years since a light has flashed from the Land Lighthouse tower to the great lakes water below, and now it is the dream of many people that before the 21st Century arrives, the 19th century Land Lighthouse will once again call the sailor back to safe harbor.

              In the meantime, the citizens and visitors of Erie can say hello to the Erie Land Lighthouse keeper, picnic at the shelter, and enjoy the view from the cliff overlooking the Channel leading to the port of Erie, Pennsylvania.  The Land Lighthouse can be found just off East Lake Road.  On Highway 5 from New York to Ohio, turn north at Lighthouse Street.

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Brochure provided by:
Wayne Middle School
650 East Avenue
Erie, Pennsylvania 16503

            The Lighthouse Park has a small picnic shelter and playground.  The Erie Land Lighthouse and grounds can be observed anytime.   No one is permitted inside the lighthouse.

            Pennsylvania’s three lighthouses are all located in Erie.  The North Pier Light can be seen from the Land Lighthouse and is located near the Coast Guard Station on Presque Isle.  The third light house is located at Lighthouse Beach (Beach #7) at Presque Isle State Park.

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