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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2002

Marblehead lighthouse ready to shine

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - Seven months after a Toledo restoration firm began remodeling the historic Marblehead Lighthouse, visitors will be able to tour the limestone landmark beginning today.

Work on the lighthouse, which opened in 1822 on the Marblehead Peninsula, was completed in mid-May. Crews from TSC Building Restoration rebuilt deteriorated brickwork around the tower's door and windows, which were replaced. Workers also restored the stucco exterior and repaired surface cracks, said Matt St. John, general manager of TSC.

The lighthouse, which is part of the Lake Erie Islands State Park, will be open from 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday until the end of August. In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard will conduct tours of the structure this summer between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the second Saturday of the month.

The park is a popular tourist attraction, drawing nearly 250,000 visitors annually.

Renovating the oldest operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes was just part of a $491,000 project to upgrade the park. Other work, funded by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, included a new 31-space asphalt parking lot, a grass-covered overflow lot with 18 spaces, and extensive renovation of the 122-year-old Keeper's House on the property.

"We are just ecstatic with the project that the state has done on the property," said Rosemary Merckens, president of the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society.

The society operates a museum in the Kee|per's House, a white, two-story wood-frame house built in 1880 as living quarters for the lighthouse keeper and his assistant. Later, park employees lived in the house.

TSC was charged with restoring the structure, which suffered from decades of neglect, to its original appearance.

Crews jacked up the house and replaced rotting support beams and columns, Mr. St. John said. Deteriorated wooden siding was replaced, and the house's original oak floors were restored. Workers also installed windows that replicate those in the original house and replaced the kitchen ceiling.

In a nod to the 21st century, the project added lighting fixtures, air conditioning, and a wheelchair lift.

"The last two summers, it had gotten so hot that we had to close the museum down," Mrs. Merckens said. "We couldn't ask our guides to stay there for four hours."

The lift will provide access to visitors who use heavy motorized wheelchairs. Mrs. Merckens recalled a disabled woman last year who had to sit outside leafing through photos of the museum's exhibits while her husband toured the building. "Now we can get wheelchairs in," she said.

The historical society hopes to have the museum open June 1. Its regular hours, which run through the Marblehead Lighthouse Festival in mid-October, are 1 to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

The museum includes exhibits on the lighthouse, the Keeper's House, and local history, including the limestone industry and Lake Erie shipping.

Considering the state's budget crisis, with lawmakers struggling to balance this year's budget, the project was done just in time, Mrs. Merckens said. In particular, the Keeper's House badly needed work.

"The state, with its budgetary problems, had this project already cleared before they got the clamps put on spending any more money, and we're really pleased with that, because it really did need the attention," she said. "They have done a superb job."



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