When Elisha Tracy launched the Miantinomo at New London in September, 1800, the old New London Harbor Light was still standing at the mouth of the Thames River, but it had a 10-foot crack in its wall and its old wooden lantern was decaying. Built in 1760 with the proceeds of a state lottery, it was the fourth to be constructed in the American colonies: 64 feet tall, made of dressed masonry, four feet thick at the base, with a lantern modeled after the one at Boston and illuminated by three spider lamps which consumed 800 gallons of whale oil annually. In 1801, it was replaced by the 84-foot-high structure which still stands today.
The second oldest lighthouse in Ohio also has a New London connection. The story begins with John Walworth, who was born at Groton, Connecticut, a town across the Thames River from New London, on June 10, 1765. He went to sea as a young man and sailed for several years in the South American trade before deciding to head west. Settling first at Aurora, New York among a number of other New London emigrants, he moved his family from there to Mentor, Ohio in 1799. Traveling over the lake in an open boat, he nearly drowned when it was wrecked. His daughter Mrs. Julianna Walworth Long recalled in her memoir, "he was so weak when he came out of the water that he could barely crawl on his hands and knees."
In 1806, John Walworth swapped property with Samuel Huntington III and moved to Cleveland, where he died, September 10, 1812 - exactly one year before Perry's victory on the Lake. His wife, Julianna Morgan, also born at Groton, lived on in Cleveland for another 41 years. An excellent horsewoman, Mrs. Walworth rode back East on a visit with her husband, crossing the Appalachian Mountains, in 1810. Two years later, after the surrender of Detroit to the British, boats were seen moving down the lake toward Cleveland and, assuming it was British and Indians about to attack the city, most of the residents departed for safer ground, leaving about thirty men to defend the city. Several women remained behind as well, including Mrs. Walworth and her daughter Mrs. Long, who stayed to tend the wounded, if necessary, and "would not, by example, encourage disgraceful flight." (Mrs. Walworth would have remembered the Battle of Groton Heights, and the brave young girls who ventured into Fort Griswold the morning after the bloody defeat of the American force, with water, food and bandages for the survivors.)
John Walworth was an Associate Judge of Geauga County, Clerk and Recorder of Cuyahoga County, Postmaster of Cleveland and Collector of the port from 1806 until his death, whereupon he was succeeded by his son Ashbel, who served until 1829.
Early in 1824, Ashbel Walworth, as Collector of Customs for the Cuyahoga District, advertised in the Painesville Telegraph for bids on a lighthouse to be built at the mouth of the Grand River. According to his proposal to builders Jonathan Goldsmith and Hiram Wood, Walworth required a lighthouse constructed of stone or brick to stand on a stone foundation and a lantern "glazed with the best double glass from the boston manufactory," patent lamps and reflectors. The interior was to be lathed and plastered and a kitchen was to be attached to the structure which included a sink with a spout carrying water directly from a well, via a spout "coming through the wall." The lamps burned whale oil, which could now be shipped west from New Bedford, New London, and Nantucket via the new Erie Canal.
Prosperity followed the canal to the Yankee frontier at about the same time that whaling began to bring in huge profits in the East. Like the Greek Revival homes that still mark the path of the Yankee migration, New London's elegant "Whale Oil Row" testifies to this good fortune.
Jonathan Goldsmith built at least 40 structures in northeastern Ohio, including a grand Euclid Avenue "cottage" in Cleveland for Ashbel Walworth and his family. The original Fairport Lighthouse was razed by the federal government in 1869. Click here for a look at the building that replaced it, now the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum. The Marblehead Lighthouse at Sandusky was also a Yankee enterprise. The first lighthouse on Lake Erie, it was built in 1822 at the tip of the Marblehead Peninsula near Sandusky Bay. Today it is the oldest lighthouse in continuous service on the Great Lakes. The land was purchased with federal funds from Epaphroditus Bull, who owned the eastern end of Marblehead Peninsula as well as Bull's Island (now Johnson's Island). James Stevens, the Connecticut Representative to the U.S. Congress at that time, made the motion to purchase the land. According to Betty Neidecker's book on the Marblehead Lighthouse, Stevens was Bull's attorney and had plans to build a city on Bull's Island. James Kilbourne, a Yankee proprietor of Sandusky, chose the site.
The deed described the land as "beginning at a post on the shore of Lake Erie at a place called Rocky Point at the easterly extremity of the Peninsula, north of Sandusky Bay, about three miles from the entrance of said bay, thence running north fifty nine degrees west four chains to an ash tree, thence north sixty-five degrees west three chains eighty seven and a half links along the shore of the Lake to an ash, thence south twenty two degrees west four chains to a post on the shore of the Lake, thence north twenty two degrees east four chains to the place of beginning, containing by estimation three acres and sixteen perches more or less, bounded south eastwardly and north eastwardly by Lake Erie...." (Although tradition has it that Yankees preferred a rectlinear survey, in some cases they still used "metes and bounds").
The building was constructed by, among others, Amos Fenn, an experienced builder from Litchfield, Connecticut. The first keeper of the light was Benajah Wolcott. He served from 1822 until his death in 1832 at the age of 68. His widow Rachel was appointed by the U.S. Treasury Department to succeed him - the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.
The original lighting fixture at Marblehead consisted of 13 Argand whale oil lamps, each with a sixteen-inch reflector. It was the product of Winslow Lewis, a versatile but not altogether honest Yankee technician, who had first constructed a similar light at Boston in 1810 and then secured a federal patent and monopoly that lasted until 1842. In 1858, the Marblehead light was refitted with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens and a new lamp that operated first on lard oil (because whale oil had become so expensive) and later on kerosene. Electricity was not installed until 1923.
According to Sarah Gleason's illustrated history of New England lighthouses, Kindly Lights, the New London, Connecticut, lighthouse also has a Fourth Order Fresnel lens - one of only two in the state. "In the later mid-nineteenth century, the lighthouse was a site for the testing of fog signal equipment, including the Daboll trumpet invented by a New Londoner." The other Fresnel lens in Connecticut is in the lighthouse at Lynde Point, Old Saybrook. Both the Lynde Point lighthouse and the one at Faulkner's Island off Guilford were built in 1802; both are still in service today.
Kindly Lights, by Sarah C. Gleason, is published by the Beacon Press, Boston. Jonathan Goldsmith, Pioneer Master Builder in the Western Reserve, by Elizabeth G. Hitchcock, is available from the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland. The Marblehead Lighthouse by Betty Neidecker, is available from the Inland Seas Maritime Museum, Vermilion, Ohio.