You can help preserve a lighthouse
Hundreds of people once served by lighthouses in their own areas have joined efforts to preserve and renovate these lighthouse legends of seafaring history. You can help, too. City governments, museums, state park services, and historical societies have begun to find ways to adopt lighthouses to preserve their historical integrity. If you are a member of such an organization, or a citizen interested in lighthouse preservation, you can help save the inoperable lighthouse in your area.
Several years ago, the Department of the Interior had the names of 301 national lighthouses on a giveaway list. Government and nonprofit groups were first in line to take over a lighthouse on the list. Many of these lights still need rescue. Write to the Department of the Interior and ask about the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Program. In 2002, Interior Secretary Gale Norton spoke with the National Park Service to find out what action could be taken to foster interest in lighthouse preservation.
Ownership of lighthouses falls under the Coast Guard. U.S. law provides for the transfer of ownership of a lighthouse from the Coast Guard to local, federal, and nonprofit groups. Individuals can also get involved in ownership, if no government agency, or nonprofit group can be found to adopt the lighthouse under a legal, no-cost deed transfer.
A lighthouse success story in Ohio
Marblehead Lighthouse in Marblehead, Ohio is situated on Marblehead Peninsula, which snakes out into Lake Erie. This lighthouse, originally constructed in 1822, was successfully “adopted” when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources assumed its ownership from the U.S. Coast Guard. The ODNR had maintained the property surrounding the lighthouse since 1972. In May of 1998, the ODNR created Ohio’s 73rd state park, Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, and took over as the new caretaker and owner of the lighthouse.
While the Coast Guard continues to maintain and operate the lighthouse beacon, the state park service completed renovations to the lighthouse tower in 2002, and reopened the park area to a receptive public. Many visitors to the park each summer enjoy the climbing tour inside the lighthouse, and learn more about the area in the separate museum building on the grounds which used to serve as the lighthouse keeper’s residence.
The beacon is a green signal that flashes every six seconds. It can be seen from as far away as 11 nautical miles. The limestone tower is capped by a mammoth fourth-order Fresnel lens.
A circular-panel prism, the Fresnel lens works by refraction, bending the light waves produced by the lighthouse’s light source. In earlier years, that source was a lantern, or flame. Marblehead’s kerosene lantern was replaced in 1923 by an electric light, which is usual to most of today’s operating lighthouses. In 1958, the beacon was automated.
What is a Fresnel lens?
The Fresnel (pronounced fray-NEL) lens was the invention of Frenchman Augustin Fresnel in 1822. His idea was to focus the light at a single plane – in this case, the horizon – while using refraction by the prism lens from all sides of the light source. This creates the huge flashing beacon affect seen from miles away.
The order of the Fresnel lens refers to the distance from the light source to the prism. A first-order lens is the largest. Smaller lighthouses use smaller orders.
Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Erie. Thanks to concerned citizenry and the park service, the light’s historic value, its use, and its area history is preserved and enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.