The Erie Land Lighthouse is one of three lighthouses in Erie, along
with the Presque Isle Lighthouse and the North Pier Light. Formerly
called the Presque Isle Lighthouse, the name of this structure was
changed to the Erie Land Lighthouse when a lighthouse on the land side
of Presque Isle was completed in 1872. An act approved by Congress in
1810 appropriated the funding for this lighthouse and the Buffalo
Lighthouse. Both are considered the first American lighthouses built on
the Great Lakes. Situated one the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie, the
Erie Land Lighthouse was also the first lighthouse erected in the area.
Completed in 1818, the lighthouse’s twenty-foot stone tower housed a
nine-foot-tall lantern that projected out a mere ninety-three feet.
Nearby, a one-story frame dwelling was constructed for the light’s
first keeper, Captain John Bone, who served from 1818 until 1832. Bone
lived with his wife and four daughters in the small dwelling,
maintaining the grounds and refilling the lens’s oil supply. Shortly
after Bone’s departure, the tower was inspected and found to be in good
condition. Almost two decades later, the tower had to be replaced due
to foundational issues. In 1857, a fifty-six-foot tower made of
Milwaukee brick was erected, but by 1866 this tower had to be
dismantled after quicksand was found beneath the tower’s foundation. In
turn, the third tower was constructed further from the bluffs.
Completed in 1867, this Berea sandstone tower still stands today. After
its completion, a Fresnel lens from Paris, France was installed and a
saltbox light keeper’s house was built. The keeper’s home was altered
in 1871 to accommodate a second story and finer finishes.
After the lighthouse on Erie’s Presque Isle Peninsula was completed in
1872, this structure was officially renamed the Erie Land Lighthouse.
Due to the completion of the new Presque Isle Lighthouse, the Erie Land
Lighthouse was deactivated in 1880. Myron Sanford, owner of the
surrounding land, bought the property in March 1881. The public was
disappointed in the decommissioning of the lighthouse, and on July 1,
1885 it was reactivated and a new third-order Fresnel lens was
installed. George W. Miller, former keeper of the Conneaut Lighthouse,
became the Erie Land Lighthouse’s final keeper in 1894, serving until
its final distinguishing in 1899. Miller was the only keeper to
maintain the tower’s light using natural gas that was piped from a
nearby well. After its closing, this light was moved to Marblehead
Lighthouse in Ohio, where it is still in use today.
The City of Erie acquired the Erie Land Lighthouse in 1934, and
continues to rent the keepers dwelling to caretakers who maintain the
surrounding land, which is now known as Lighthouse Park. It was listed
on the National Register of Historic Places on March 30, 1978,
promoting preservation efforts to ensue in the following decades. On
December 17, 1990, a new wooden lantern room was unveiled at the base
of the tower. Almost a decade later, on December 26, 1999, a ceremonial
relighting was held at the lighthouse. The following year,
archaeologists discovered the foundation of the 1818 lighthouse at a
site 200 yards west of the current tower. In 2003, funds secured by the
Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority, who later assumed ownership
of the tower in 2010, allowed restoration of the property to begin.
Fiske & Sons of Erie replaced the lantern room and oil room roof, and
repaired the interior and exterior brick. Following the restoration
project, a rededication ceremony was held June 19, 2004, where a state
historical marker was unveiled. In 2011, the Erie Playhouse offered
tours of the lighthouse in period costumes over Labor Day weekend and
the preceding weekend. The Erie Playhouse has continued to annually
provides these tours, which is the only time the Erie Land Lighthouse
is open to the public. The Erie Land Lighthouse continues to embody
Erie’s early maritime history as the first lighthouse to open in the
city, as it overlooks the bluffs of Lake Erie and the bustling city.