When you think about things to do in Sandusky Ohio, amusement parks are probably at the top of your list, but did you know that Sandusky is full of history? Take Marblehead Lighthouse State Park for example!
If you’re in Sandusky, Ohio, there is no shortage of fun things to do. Between Cedar Point, Castaway Bay, local museums, and easy access to Lake Erie, the only limit on your fun is your own imagination.
If you’re looking for a fun day trip for the whole family, you can’t go wrong with visiting a lighthouse. They’re located in great locations, offering amazing views of the water, they’re teeming with history, and there’s just something really fun about going inside and climbing all the way to the top. No matter what lighthouse you visit, there’s nothing quite like the view from the top.
On the Great Lakes, there are many lighthouses located on Lake Erie in both Michigan and Ohio. But Marblehead Lighthouse is definitely one worth visiting. It’s currently the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes.
Believe it or not, Marblehead Lighthouse State Park is the second smallest Ohio State Park, but it’s one of the most popular. It’s estimated that more than a million visitors make the journey to Marblehead Lighthouse each year and about 25,000 visitors make the climb to the top of the lighthouse. It’s also said to be the most frequently photographed building in the entire state.
If you’re planning a trip to Marblehead Lighthouse, here’s all you need to know…
History of Marblehead Lighthouse
Marblehead Lighthouse is located on the Marblehead Peninsula about 30 miles north of Sandusky. The tower was constructed in 1822 out of native limestone by William Kelly and automated in 1958.
The 50-foot tower has a base that is 25 feet in diameter, and the lighthouse tower is identified by its red markings against its white color. The lighthouse signal was first lit in 1822 and has a range of 11 nautical miles, aiding ships with a flashing green light.
In 1819, the U.S. Congress set aside $5,000 for the construction of Marblehead Lighthouse and it was completed in 1822. Before its beacon was automated, the light tower was tended to by 15 civilian lighthouse keepers, including the first lighthouse keeper, Benajah Wolcott.
Each night, Wolcott lit 13 whale oil lamps that comprised the light’s original fixture. During those early days, Wolcott also kept a log of passing ships and weather conditions and organized rescue efforts when necessary.
Wolcott died in 1832 and his widow, Rachel, took over keeper duties until she remarried and her new husband took over the duties. The whale lamp light was replaced in 1858 with a curved Fresnel lens, which is still used today and helps create a fixed white light that’s easier for ships to see.
During World War II, Marblehead Light became strategically important for national defense and the U.S. Coast Guard patrolled the shoreline. The Coast Guard assumed control of the lighthouse from its last civilian lighthouse keeper in 1946.
Eventually, the lighthouse beacon became powered by electricity in 1923, and in 1969, a minor electric light fixture was installed, giving the lighthouse its distinctive green signal. Today, the lighthouse uses a high-intensity green LED fixture, which was installed in 2013.
Tours of the lighthouse began in 1986 and guardianship of the lighthouse was given to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1998.
FAQs about Marblehead Lighthouse
If you’re planning a trip to Marblehead Lighthouse, here are some frequently asked questions and answers to make things easier:
Where is Marblehead Lighthouse State Park?
Marblehead Lighthouse State Park is located at 110 Lighthouse Drive in Marblehead, Ohio. Marblehead Lighthouse Park is located at the tip of the Marblehead Peninsula, a narrow finger of land that goes out into the western basin of Lake Erie.
The Peninsula has a rocky shoreline and is just 10-12 deep close to shore, making it dangerous for ships and making the lighthouse an important beacon for those traversing the lake.
How do you get to Marblehead Lighthouse State Park?
If you’re coming from Sandusky, you can get to the park via OH-2 W and State Rte 163 E. The park grounds are open year-round.
Are tours of Marblehead Lighthouse available?
Tours of Marblehead Lighthouse are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Tours are held from noon to 4 p.m. There is a winding staircase of 77 steps to get to the top of the lighthouse, so bring good walking shoes.
Does it cost anything to visit Marblehead Lighthouse?
Tours cost $3 per person and children 5 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased with cash only on the day of your visit.
There is no cost to tour the park grounds, gift shop, or lifesaving station.
What else is at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park?
There are restrooms available on the lighthouse grounds and there are tables available for picnicking. The state park surrounding Marblehead Lighthouse offers visitors picturesque views of Lake Erie, Sandusky Bay, Kelleys Island, and South Bass Island.
Things to Do at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park
2022 marked the 200th anniversary of Marblehead Lighthouse, and, not only is it filled with so much history, there’s a lot to see and do there.
Marblehead Lighthouse Lifesaving Station Museum
Start at the Lifesaving Station Museum, where you can see a replica of an 1876 U.S. Lifesaving Station. The original station was built on the site of the current U.S. Coast Guard Station, which sits about a mile from the lighthouse.
The museum has a variety of exhibits, including a restored Coast Guard boat and exhibits on boat safety and the history of Great Lakes shipping.
Marblehead Lighthouse Keeper’s House Museum
Continue at the Keeper’s House Museum, where you can learn all about the house that houses the museum. Visitors who love museums will marvel at the house, which has its own unique history. The house sits on the site of the original keeper’s house, which was built in 1821.
The original house was primarily used during months of navigation when the lighthouse was lit and was very small, but it still makes for a great tour.
So what can you see at the Keeper’s House Museum? A lot of history, for one thing, and different rooms of the museum give visitors a good representation of the lighthouse’s history and the surrounding community.
- The Lighthouse Room — This showcases the last Fresnel lens used at the Marblehead Lighthouse and has been on display since 2004.
- The Marblehead Room — This room is filled with artifacts from the 1800s, which represent limestone quarrying, fishing, and community medicine.
- The Gift Shop — The perfect place to pick up a souvenir from your trip.
Marblehead Lighthouse Gift Shop
Once you’ve taken a lighthouse tour and explored the lifesaving museum and the park grounds, take time to stop by the lighthouse gift shop. You can pick up a hoodie or a T-shirt, unique lighthouse posters, postcards, stickers, magnets, and lots of other cool souvenirs.
Wolcott House at Marblehead Lighthouse
Those interested in the history of Marblehead Lighthouse can travel about three miles west of the lighthouse to visit the Wolcott House. This was the family home of the lighthouse’s first keeper, Benajah Wolcott, and is open for tours.
Marblehead Lighthouse 200th Anniversary Celebration
The Marblehead Lighthouse was officially lit on June 22, 1822, and there are plenty of festivities planned for its 200th anniversary in 2022. From the beginning of June through at least early October, visitors to the park have the chance to participate in many fun, free events, thanks to generous donations from sponsors.
Some of the events for the 200th-anniversary celebration include:
- June 21 — a 200th Anniversary Party that includes cupcakes and ice cream
- August 1 — Plein Art painters event where
- August 5 — A viewing of The Guardian where visitors can enjoy snacks and a movie on the lawn from 8:30-11 p.m.
- August 11 — Lighthouse Scavenger Hunt with prizes available for the first 75 kids to complete the hunt
- August 17 — Geocaching at the Lighthouse — Visitors can learn about geocaching and try their hand at geocaching around the park
- September 3 — A Star Party where the Black River Astronomical Society will host a public viewing event.
- October 8 — A fossil walk where a local geologist will conduct a fossil walk and discuss local fossil types.
Plan a Visit to Marblehead Lighthouse State Park in Ohio
If you’re looking for a fun family trip where you can take some great photos, learn some cool history, take in some scenic views, and go on a unique tour, Marblehead Lighthouse is the place to be.
It’s the perfect spot to have a picnic, enjoy a scenic Lake Erie view, and marvel at one of the most popular spots in Ohio. If you feel up to it, take the tour up to the top of the lighthouse; it’ll give you one of the best views you’ve ever seen and a great memory to take away from your trip.