Digest>Archives> April 2004

Celebration planned for Erie Land Light lighting

Lighthouse dark for over 100 years to shine again

By Timothy Harrison

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Headless Land Light from an old postcard.

Lighthouse buffs love a lighthouse event and this is one part of history you’ll want to be sure to witness.

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Inside the Land Light.

Within driving distance to many of the nation’s largest groups of lighthouse aficionados, the folks planning the celebration of the relighting of Erie, Pennsylvania’s Land Light are hoping the lighthouse lovers will show up in droves for this historic event scheduled for June 19th and 20th.

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A workman inside the tower of the Land Light ...

The history of Erie’s Land Light is about as varied as it gets when it comes to lighthouses, especially since it, along with the original Buffalo Lighthouse, has the joint distinction, in 1818, of being the first light stations established on Lake Erie.

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By the mid-1800’s, the original lighthouse, a 20-foot stone tower, which had a frame three-bedroom keeper’s house, was in such poor condition that it was torn down and replaced by a higher 56-foot structure in 1858. At the same time, a new keeper’s house was built which still stands today. However, the second tower soon started to lean and sink into the ground. It was soon discovered that the lighthouse had been built above a layer of quicksand that was hidden below the surface. By 1867, this resulted in the building of a new and the third Erie Land Light but with a much larger base, further away from the from the site, on much more stable ground.

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In 1880, the government decided the lighthouse was no longer needed and it was sold. However, protests by mariners eventually convinced the government to buy the lighthouse back and they even raised its height by seventeen feet. However, by 1899, the government again decided the lighthouse was really not needed and shut it down for the second time, and its lens was removed. At some point after that, the lantern room was removed from the tower, leaving a headless lighthouse, which, as any pharologist will tell you, is the worst possible thing to happen to a lighthouse.

In the mid-1930’s, ownership of the property was transferred to the community, and the keeper’s house was used sporadically over the years by various caretakers.

The keeper with the longest tenure at the lighthouse was its first keeper, Captain John Bone, who lived there 14 years. Keeper James Fleming had the shortest term of duty from April to October 1858. Fleming apparently had an excessive drinking problem and was summarily fired.

After standing shamefully with no lantern room for so many years, a temporary lantern room was installed on the tower in 1989. That lantern room was severely damaged and fell to the ground in a storm early last year.

Over a decade ago, tenacious Kitty Felion, Erie history buff and tour director for Heritage Trail, and other concerned citizens started to convince local officials to help save and restore the lighthouse. Grants totaling $390,000 were secured from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Museums and Sites to begin the effort of saving the lighthouse.

In preparation for the celebration of the relighting of the lighthouse the oil house has been restored, the vents cleaned out and the exterior of the tower has been cleaned and re-pointed. The area is being re-landscaped, trees and bushes on the cliff-side cut away, which will again make the lighthouse visible from the lake.

Fifteen years ago, grants were secured to restore the keeper’s house and a lottery was held to pick caretakers to live on the site. Pat and Mary Scutella are the first modern day keepers since 1884.

In 1999, one hundred years to the day that the lighthouse was extinguished, there was a ceremonial relighting of the lighthouse. Now, the lighthouse will actually have a real light and will once again be a friend to mariners, history buffs and preservationists alike.

Events for the relighting celebration of the Erie Land Light are still in the planning stages, and more details will follow in a future issue of Lighthouse Digest and will be posted on our web site’s calendar of events. We would encourage our readers to reserve this weekend now and plan on being in Erie, Pennsylvania, on June 19 to witness history in the making.

This story appeared in the April 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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