Located at the “intersection” of Toledo’s busy shipping channel, near the confluence of Maumee Bay and Lake Erie, sits a curious historical building— the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse. Dedicated in 1904, the rather non-traditional lighthouse is built on a stone crib, complete with a cellar and multiple bedrooms. After years of planning and fundraising, the Lighthouse is finally on its way to restoration with the first phase of a $2.5 million project.
Though the U.S. Coast Guard is still responsible for maintaining the old Harbor Light, it’s the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Society that has owned the structure since 2006 ( when it was purchased from the Department of the Interior for $1), and that has led the fundraising push to restore the historic site to its original glory.
The Society has hosted an annual Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival, which takes attendees by boat to get a closer look at the structure, but visits inside the building havennot been possible since the structure’s dock was destroyed years ago. Sandy Bihn, president of the Society, says that the eventual opening of the building for tours will take some time, but it will be well worth it.
“If you look at many of the lighthouses around the world, our lighthouse will stand out,” says Bihn. “It’s unique because it’s not a cylinder, and it also has all the keepers quarters and everything within it.”
Built to withstand “the horrendous winds of Lake Erie,” the Harbor Light has a roof that has lasted over 100 years through blizzards and tornadoes. Its steel construction is “like the upside-down hull of a ship,” Bihn explains.
While the lighthouse’s Romanesque architecture and engineering are intriguing, there’s also lore that it is haunted based on multiple reported sightings of a figure in an upper story window. But that figure is likely just “Sarah,” a blonde mannequin placed decades ago to deter vandals along with an automated light to protect the unmanned outpost.
The first phase of the restoration involves making sure the building’s first two floors are sound — including the brick-work, windows and doors. In the second phase, the building’s infrastructure (plumbing and wiring) will be upgraded, before the final phase provides the finishing touches to allow lighthouse keepers to stay there and to operate tours. The keepers will be chosen from a list of Society members who have put in many years of work to see the Harbor Light restored. “People continue to join the Society because they want to have the opportunity of becoming a keeper,” explains Bihn, adding that they have about 200 members right now. Plans are to have lighthouse keepers on rotation week-by-week during the spring and fall to escort visitors on scheduled tours of the building, which includes an amazing view of the Toledo skyline.
“We’ve had people who were able to go inside the building years ago (brought to tears by the skyline view),” Bihn says. “People really connected to the lighthouse in one way or another. I’m convinced it (the restored lighthouse) will get a lot of traffic and will become a destination for many.”
Learn more about restoration efforts, and how to help through donations and membership, at toledolighthouse.org.