Filed Under Architecture

Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse

Lighthouse Park

If the Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse continued shining to this day, its beam would illuminate much of the Flats, keep most residents of the Archer Apartments and Pinnacle Condominiums unhappily awake, and seriously endanger drivers crossing the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway bridge. That’s all moot, of course, since the lighthouse ended its service in the 1890s. All that remains are sections of a sandstone wall and steps at the southwest corner of West 9th Street and Main Avenue. It’s a cute little spit of land, appropriately named Lighthouse Park.

By the mid 1820s Cleveland was hopping. The city had just dug a new entrance to the Cuyahoga River—eliminating a complicated stretch of waterway that took the river as far west as Weddell Street (now West 54th Street). Increased lake/river traffic around downtown, combined with Cleveland’s rapid commercial growth, convinced city fathers of the need to create a formal “Lighthouse Service” and to fund the creation of a “light station.” They chose a site on a bluff at the north end of Water (now West 9th) Street which, at the time, more or less abutted the Lake Erie shoreline (much of the land north of the Shoreway bridge is fill). Noted architect Levi Johnson was hired to design and build the tower and adjoining lighthouse-keeper’s house, which were completed around 1830. About the same time, an east-west artery, appropriately called Lighthouse Street, was cut through just north of the lighthouse. That road was later renamed Main Street, thus explaining why we often refer to the structure above it as the Main Avenue Bridge.

In the 1830s the immediately surrounding neighborhood was still quite bucolic with small residences, grassy plots, and a few grand homes, including Levi Johnson’s Mansard-style home just south of the Lighthouse. Cleveland’s commercial center was a few short blocks to the south and east, lining Superior Street between the Cuyahoga River and Public Square. Within fifteen years of the lighthouse’s completion, three grand hotels—the American House (1837), the Franklin House (1845), and the Weddell House (1847)—would offer testament to the area’s increasing vigor. In 1852, Johnson, who also was a shipbuilder and real-estate entrepreneur, built his own hotel, the Johnson House, on Superior between Water and Bank (West 6th) streets.

Today, lighthouses exhibit a special charm that most large structures lack. The Cleveland Harbor lighthouse was no exception, although its mission was inarguably utilitarian. Built at a cost of $8,000, the hexagonal stone building stood 55 feet high and 150 feet above the level of the lake. Via 11 lamps and 14-inch reflectors, it produced a fixed white light that could be seen for 19 miles.

In 1872 the tower was rebuilt and the keeper’s house remodeled. The lighthouse lasted until 1894 when, following a fire, it was decommissioned. Shortly thereafter, a new 63-foot-high lighthouse was constructed on a breakwall just west of the harbor entrance and the original lighthouse was torn down. Parts of the tower were used to increase the size of the adjoining dwelling to 43 rooms—capable of housing four keepers and their families. That structure remained until around 1937 when the Main Avenue Bridge was built.

Today, the wall and steps are the focal point of Lighthouse Park, which also features built-in seating, bench swings, electrical hookups for device charging, and an interesting light-bar feature. There also are several colorful historic markers that, like the Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse in years past, provide an illuminating view of Cleveland.

Images

Lighthouse in 1885
Lighthouse in 1885 A bucolic view of the lighthouse looking southwest from somewhere close to what was then the lakefront. Source: Cleveland Public Library Date: 1885
Cleveland's First Pier
Cleveland's First Pier The first pier at the foot of Water Street was Stockley’s Pier, built by John Stockley in 1849. It extended 924 feet into the lake. The lighthouse appears in the distance at right. Source: Cleveland Public Library Date: 1850
Lighthouse on 1858 Map
Lighthouse on 1858 Map This map from 1858 shows the Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse fronting on Lighthouse Street, as well as Stockly’s Pier at the foot of water street and the new entrance to the Cuyahoga River which was completed in 1827. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Lighthouse Blueprint
Lighthouse Blueprint This architectural rendering of the proposed Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse shows the front and rear elevations and other details of the design. Source: National Archives and Records Administration Creator: Department of Commerce, Bureau of Lighthouses Date: 1870
Lithograph of Lighthouse
Lithograph of Lighthouse An early rendering of the Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse, shown facing north. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Stereographic View
Stereographic View Facing west, this 1870 photograph reveals the steps leading to the lighthouse, with the lighthouse-keeper’s house behind it and Levi Johnson’s home at left. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society Date: 1870s
Keepers' House
Keepers' House This photo shows the lighthouse keeper's house after its enlargement following the demolition of the lighthouse in 1901. Source: U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office Date: ca. 1900s
Historical Marker
Historical Marker One of several historic markers resides by the stone steps that led to the Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse. The Main Avenue Bridge can be seen in the background and the steps are visible at the far left. Creator: Chris Roy Date: 2023
The Lighthouse Site Today
The Lighthouse Site Today The Main Avenue Bridge looms over the property upon which the Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse stood. Creator: Chris Roy Date: 2023

Location

W 9th St, Cleveland, OH 44113 | Lighthouse Park

Metadata

Chris Roy, “Cleveland Harbor Lighthouse,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 14, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/1005.