ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — As the Ashtabula Lighthouse turns 100, the group dedicated to preserving it is looking to take another step in making it a tourist hot spot.
In 2001, a group of local lighthouse enthusiasts formed the Ashtabula Lighthouse Restoration and Preservation Society with the goal of returning the lighthouse to a usable condition and turning it into an educational center and tourist destination. It bought the lighthouse in 2007.
The group has been having a fish fry since its inception 15 years ago, and the 2016 event will be Saturday at Lake Shore Park.
“The event has been successful in providing money to refurbish the lighthouse,” said Earl Tucker, the group’s historian. “Usually, we serve 275 to 300 dinners.”
The lighthouse’s 100th birthday celebration and fish fry will be 2-7 p.m. Saturday at the Main Pavilion at Lake Shore Park. Cost is a $10 donation per dinner, and there also will be a bake sale, Chinese auction, 50/50 raffle and live music.
Last year, the group bought a new boat to take tours out to the lighthouse, but there’s no place for it to dock, Tucker said.
The floating dock must be removed before winter so it doesn’t get damaged by the ice, he said. The group puts markers up so divers can easily find the chains to secure it, but every year, the ice destroys them.
“It’s difficult to get divers to go down and locate the chains,” he said.
City Manager Jim Timonere said once there is a way to make the lighthouse accessible for all, he believes it will be a major tourist destination in Ashtabula County.
“The group has done a tremendous job with the structure to date and I hope the community will continue to support their efforts,” he said.
Though Ashtabula has had a lighthouse in one form or another since 1836, this year marks the 100th year since the current lighthouse was constructed and moved to its present location at the end of a newly constructed breakwall. The move allowed for a larger structure, an air compressor and a generator, as well as living quarters for the lighthouse keepers.
Since its move, the lighthouse and its keepers have seen their share of dramatic events.
In 1927, the steamer Gleneagles, of the Canadian Steamship Lines, rammed the lighthouse and drove it back six inches while heavily damaging the ship, according to the preservation society’s website.
In 1928, an ice storm imprisoned two keepers in the lighthouse and Coast Guardsmen had to tunnel through five feet of ice to freedom.
The lighthouse was manned by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1973, when it became automated, according to the preservation society. It was the last remaining light to be manned on Lake Erie.
At Saturday’s fundraising fish fry, 2017 Ashtabula Lighthouse desk calendars will be available. To preorder lighthouse merchandise, become a preservation society member or preorder fish fry tickets, e-mail email@example.com or Earl Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org.