A SHORT HISTORY OF NORTH PIER LIGHTHOUSE

September 12, 2012 8:24 am Published by 3 Comments

Sunrise at North Pier Lighthouse – - Brian Berchtold

                     I call this little lighthouse at the very end of the channel’s north pier, the”North Pier Light.” Its official name is “Presque Isle North Pierhead Lighthouse.”  That is quite a handle, so it’s the North Pier Light to me andmost people who venture out to visit it.

            The first versions of this lighthouse have guided mariners into the Erie harbor since 1828.  Many lighthouse

Early Fall Lighthouse – - E. Ware

purists do not consider this well-regarded little light, which has been a constant guide to all boaters for many decades, a true lighthouse.  This argument has raged for over 80 years.  Well, folks, from the very beginning in 1858, the National Lighthouse Board has considered it an official lighthouse, and originally named it Prequ’le- Lake Erie,  beacon-range light # 3. When this light was built, it was a simple 50-foot tall wooden tower set on a concrete pad with a foghorn and whistle.  It was located at the very end of the Erie harbor channel pier, which is now at the far eastern edge of the current Coast Guard Station.

It is interesting to read a report by the U.S. National Lighthouse Board written in 1837, which noted that the Erie Harbor was served by a lighthouse and a beacon. The lighthouse was the Erie Land Lighthouse, which had been erected on a bluff overlooking the harbor entrance in 1818, and the beacon was the North Pier light.  The report indicated the beacon was “so situated that it cannot be seen by vessels running down the lake until they are very close to it,” and the report recommend vessels use the lighthouse to gain the upper/wider entrance to the harbor, and then follow the beacon light.

Turkey at North Pier – - E. Ware

The light on the tower was powered by whale oil and had to be constantly attended.  When mariners were approaching the channel, many times they had difficulty spotting the pier light until they were right on top of it.  To help solve this problem, in 1854, the light was equipped with a new sixth-order Fresnel lens so that the beacon could be more easily seen.  This apparatus had an illuminating arc of 270 degrees, which was a great improvement from the former light.

            This light and tower served many mariners visiting Erie until one stormy evening in 1857, when a large schooner slammed into and over the tower in a furious northeastern storm.  After the accident, the storm took just an hour to sweep the entire tower and its new light completely away.  Since that time, there have been questions and rumors about the sobriety of the schooner’s captain.

North Pier Light – - Brian Berchtold

    During the next year, a new tower lighthouse made from wrought iron was constructed at a cost of $ 5,250.  During the period of repairs and replacement, a temporary light hung from an old gallows frame brought in from Pittsburgh. When done, the new iron lighthouse tower was 34 feet in height.

Old Zip Line to North Pier Light – E. Ware Book -Presque Isle State Park

      

 

 

 

      When, in 1882, the pier was expanded in both width and length, the light was moved 190 feet to the end of the new pier. Changes in the harbor over the years meant changes for the little pier head light as traffic increased in the harbor, necessitating changes in location and the light itself.  In addition, when this move was made, they changed the oil to be burned in the light from whale oil to lard oil, which was more readily available, and cost less than half the price of the now expensive whale oil.  When this was done the channel to the bay was deepened, and this caused sand to fill in near the end of the new pier.

            The next and last move of the lighthouse took place in 1940, when it was again relocated to the end of a newly extended pier.  The new addition to the pier changed its general direction. The addition went in a more northeasterly direction. This stopped the sand problem almost immediately. 

            Once the lighthouse tower was moved the 509 feet, the lighthouse service boxed in the tower with heavy steel plating and painted it with its distinctive large black-and-white stripes. The design of the lighthouse and its steel cover is unique, and it is the only surviving example of the square and pyramidal style lighthouse tower left in this country.    

            The plating and additional bracing used in this reconstruction were made in France and shipped to Erie for assembly.  At this point, in the minds of many, it finally became a true lighthouse. When all the changes were complete, an automated electric light was installed.  Beginning in 1995, the light began to be powered by solar panels.

Original North Pier Light – -E. Ware Book – Presque Isle State Park

       In 1995, the Coast Guard also changed the light’s fixed red light to a flashing red light.  Over the many years the light has been in existence, it has become a favorite place for people to fish and relax.  All types and sizes of Lake Erie fish are caught from this pier.

            If you have never visited the light, this is a perfect time of the year to do so. To get to the lighthouse and pier, follow the main road past the Perry Monument to the Coast Guard Station road and turn there.  Follow this road past the Coast Guard Station and it will take you to the small parking lot for the pier and lighthouse.

See you on the Park!!


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3 Comments

  • Amy Bovaird says:

    Thank you for that history, Gene. I find it interesting that the North Pier is the only surviving example of the square and pyramidal style lighthouse tower left in this country. I love learning about Presque Isle! Amy

  • admin says:

    The birds are out in force on the park. Two eagles are also always near Misery Bay on an al,ost dailey basis.

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