Maumee Bay event shines for lighthouse

More than 1,000 attend festival to help restore landmark

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    Carl Jahn, with the Keeper of the Great Lakes Lights, of Smith Creek, Mich., right, discusses lighthouse history with Blake Rachwal, 12, front left, and William Rachwal, at the 14th annual Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon.

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  • Sunscreen and towels in hand, families flocked to Maumee Bay State Park on Sunday to attend the Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival.

    The event, which attracted more than 1,000 visitors on Saturday and Sunday, was sponsored by the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society. Now in its 14th year, the two-day affair featured live music, a silent auction, food trucks, and local art vendors. Attendees also kayaked at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Paddle Palooza Festival, which ran concurrently at the state park on Sunday.

    Revenue from the festival will help restore Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, the historic landmark located about five miles offshore from Maumee Bay State Park.

    “We’re really happy with the momentum we’re getting,” said Sandy Bihn, a Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society volunteer.

    The preservation society, composed of 500 members from more than 15 states, is spearheading a $1.5 million project to restore the lighthouse. Renovations are expected to commence in August, beginning with the replacement of the building’s windows.

    The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse was constructed in 1904 for roughly $152,000. Individual keepers operated the light until 1926, when the Coast Guard took over the property. Even before the transition, the lighthouse was known for its remoteness.

    “Women were not allowed out there. So if the keepers were married, they only had Sunday afternoon usually to paddle in and see their family,” said Carl Jahn, a Michigan native who studies the history of Great Lakes lighthouses.

    After the Coast Guard automated the light and vacated the building in 1966, the lighthouse became a popular vandalism target. It remained unprotected until 1989, when the Coast Guard invested roughly $1 million into reinforcing the island with external boulders.

    The renovations in August will mark the first changes made to the landmark since the preservation society acquired the property in 2008.

    Gail Wonnell, a Sylvania artist who has participated in the festival since 2004, said many Toledo residents’ fond memories of the lighthouse explain their dedication to the preservation effort. On Saturday, she met a middle-aged man who had not visited the attraction since he was 5.

    “It was on his bucket list to go around it again,” she said.

    Bob Gladieux of Toledo has visited the lighthouse more than a dozen times. He said the secluded nature of lighthouses attracted him to the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse preservation effort.

    “They’re off the beaten path. Sometimes it’s very difficult to find them, so it’s an adventure. It’s not like going to a tourist attraction like Disney World,” he said. “To find a lighthouse, you’ve got to look for it.”

    Contact Antonia Ayres-Brown at: or 419-724-6368.