Volume 42

The Building of History II: Toledo Harbor Lighthouse

View Through A Landlubber’s Spyglass


A bit of a misty fog was rising off the warm waters of Maumee Bay.

Dawn was fast approaching in the east, a crescent of light barely visible on the horizon.

As the downbound freighter slowly glided by the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, two white flashes, followed by a red flash beamed out into the night sky, marking the signature of the lighthouse.

The second mate stared intently at the dark lighthouse. He had heard the stories about a ghost, a lady waiting forlornly for her seafaring husband to return. But in all his years on the sea, he had never seen it—until now.


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Second story, first window on the left…a soft, faint, shimmering glow… touching the very soul of the lonely sailor. The light suddenly went out, like a candle in the wind…

Ah, the lore of the sea. Was it fact, fiction, or somewhere in between? Who knows!

Since 1904, countless ships have passed the Toledo Harbor Light. Lake freighters, like the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker, once known as the S.S. Willis B. Boyer, is now permanently docked at The Great Lakes Historical Society Museum on the Maumee River.

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, whose homeport was Toledo, made many trips past the lighthouse. The ship and its crew were forever immortalized by the haunting ballad written by Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa down…of the big lake they call ”Gitche Gumee”…The lake it is said, never gives up its dead when the skies of November turn gloomy…”

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Another important part of the storied history of the Great Lakes is the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse.

The unique Romanesque architectural design of the lighthouse is a marvel of its era. Built on a stone crib 20 foot deep, the three story glazed brick building, built on a large concrete foundation and capped by a sturdy rolled steel roof, sets majestically in the shallow waters of Maumee Bay.

When the Coast Guard extinguished the light in 1966 and installed an automated system, the sailors left a mannequin. Where? On the second story, of course.

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The lighthouse quickly fell into disrepair. It languished in its demise, the black steel roof started to turn white from Gull droppings, leading many boaters to think the roof was black and white by design.

But despair has turned to optimism. A volunteer group has made slow but deliberate strides to restore the lighthouse to its earlier glory days.

For lighthouse lovers everywhere, and historians keen to view the past coming back to life, this should be on your bucket list. Boat tours will take you around and into the lighthouse, weather permitting.

For further information, contact the group at Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society or visit their website at www.toledolighthouse.org. Donations are encouraged, and volunteers are equally as precious.


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