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Published: Monday, 7/14/2008

Marblehead village offers laid-back fun

BY GABE NELSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Marblehead Lighthouse and picturesque lakefront draw vacationers looking to kick back and relax. The Marblehead Lighthouse and picturesque lakefront draw vacationers looking to kick back and relax.
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Sticking close to home this summer? Short Stops will help steer readers toward day trips that won't burn a tank of gas. Short Stops will appear each Monday throughout the summer.

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - Every resort city on Ohio's north coast has its own distinct image.

The party animals have Put-in-Bay. The thrill-seekers have Sandusky. The yachting crowd has Rattlesnake Island.

For vacationers looking for someplace a little more relaxing - and a little less expensive - there's Marblehead.

The village, which is between Port Clinton and Sandusky at the tip of the Marblehead Peninsula, is most famous for Marblehead Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in Ohio. But Dianne Rozak, naturalist at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, said the town's small-town atmosphere and lakefront beauty make it "a unique, fun, family-oriented place."

Olivia Matlack, 8, of Northwood takes a closer look at Cedar Point, just across Sandusky Bay from Marblehead. She was visiting the village last week with Mike and Julie Marshall of Millbury, Ohio. Olivia Matlack, 8, of Northwood takes a closer look at Cedar Point, just across Sandusky Bay from Marblehead. She was visiting the village last week with Mike and Julie Marshall of Millbury, Ohio.
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"It's a wonderful place to spend a day, or several days," Ms. Rozak said.

The main drag in Marblehead is Main Street (State Rt. 163), a two-lane road quiet enough that people can cross without a crosswalk and bike without a bike lane.

The town has virtually no chain stores or restaurants, and with many local eateries serving baskets of freshly caught Lake Erie perch, it's easy to understand why.

The street is dotted with locally owned antique stores and craft shops, including Schoolhouse Gallery & Gifts, which sells nautical memorabilia, Marblehead souvenirs, and ice cream in a stately limestone building that housed the town's elementary school from 1893 to 1935.

For the artistically inclined, there's Glazed & Blazed, where visitors can paint their own kiln-fired pottery, including vases, bowls, and piggy banks. They can see Lake Erie from the upstairs studio, which also showcases co-owner Amy Turinsky's art.

Dianne Rozak, naturalist at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, climbs the 77 spiral steps to reach the observation deck.
Dianne Rozak, naturalist at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, climbs the 77 spiral steps to reach the observation deck.
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"The whole village is really quaint and family-oriented, so it's a nice match," Ms. Turinsky said.

Though the town has grown significantly since the construction of Marblehead Lighthouse in 1821, the lighthouse remains the town's main attraction.

With its white paint and red trim, the cone-shaped lighthouse seems impossibly antique at first glance, like an oversized lawn ornament. But its interior, with towering walls of time-worn brick and limestone, says otherwise.

Bob Hartman, a volunteer for the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society, said multiple couples get married at the lighthouse most weekends. Some lighthouse fanatics bring a passportlike book and get it stamped to show that they visited Marblehead.

Mr. Hartman said he didn't know why lighthouses inspire such passion among some people.

"There's just something magic about lighthouses," he said.

In 1819, Congress contributed $5,000 for the construction of the lighthouse, intended to warn passing ships about the rocky, shallow water near Marblehead, much of it between 8 and 10 feet deep.

Barb Fehl and Bea LeJeune, both of Fremont, relax near the 1821 lighthouse, both a scenic lookout and historic site. Barb Fehl and Bea LeJeune, both of Fremont, relax near the 1821 lighthouse, both a scenic lookout and historic site.
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Because most large boats now use electronic navigation aids, the 65-foot lighthouse's flashing green beacon is less crucial than it once was, but the lighthouse continues to attract visitors as a scenic lookout and historic site, Ms. Rozak said.

On weekday afternoons during the summer, the park offers 15-minute guided tours up the lighthouse's 77 spiral steps. More than 300 people climb to the top of the lighthouse on an average day, she said.

From the top, visitors get a stunning panoramic view of Lake Erie and Cedar Point Amusement Park, which sits just across Sandusky Bay. On clear days, Cleveland's 947-foot-tall Key Tower can be seen in the distance, about 50 miles across Lake Erie.

The park's pristine grounds also offer 10 acres of public hiking trails, shady areas for picnicking, and plenty of places where visitors can sit for a spell by the lake.

The historical society maintains a small museum in the former lighthouse keeper's house, which was built on park grounds in 1880.

The original keeper, Revolutionary War veteran Benajah Wolcott, lived in a stone house about two miles away. His family home, at 9999 Bayshore Road in Marblehead, is also open for tours.

On a warm, sunny day last week, families lined up to climb the lighthouse, some arriving an hour before tours started. Children used coin-operated binoculars to look out into the bay, and a group of young adults tossed around a football.

Eric Rotsinger of Van Wert, Ohio, sat on a shady rock by the lake's edge with his friend Karen Oswald and her daughter Brandi, both of Lambertville, talking and watching boats glide across the water.

They didn't come to climb the lighthouse, though. Mr. Rotsinger said he visits the park often because he finds the water's beauty calming.

The three had gone to a close friend's funeral the day before and needed a serene place to reflect, he said.

"You can sit here as long as you want. You can get yourself right with God," he said, explaining why he keeps coming back to Marblehead. Then he fell silent, looking into the distance as the water rose and fell, splashing at his feet.

The park is free, as is swimming at several local public beaches, including East Harbor State Park. Marblehead hotels cost less than in many other resort towns, making the village an affordable family destination, Ms. Rozak said.

"It's just a very tranquil and laid-back atmosphere," Marblehead Mayor Jacqueline Bird said. "There's no other place I'd rather be."

Contact Gabe Nelson at:

gnelson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076



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