By Rich Tarrant
THE VERMILION LIGHTHOUSE: served as a navigational aid on the west breakwall of Vermilion’s harbor from 1877 to 1929. It was removed / dismantled after it was damaged in an ice storm. For the next six years it sat in the Buffalo, New York Lighthouse Depot. But finally it was relocated and reconstructed on a site near the entrance of the St. Lawrence River in northeastern Lake Ontario. This is in New York State near the Canada-U.S. border. It is now known along the Great Lakes as the East Charity Shoal Light and is privately owned.
While the Charity Light is no longer deemed a necessary navigational tool – it was sold at auction on August 27, 2009 to Cyrena Nolan of Dallas, Texas for $25,501 – it remains functional. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Aside from being historically relevant as a lighthouse its history as an American artifact predates its lighthouse days. It was constructed from recast obsolescent cannon after the Battle of Fort Sumter during the American Civil War. Late Vermilionite F. W. Wakefield offered to purchase the Light after it was retired from service in Vermilion, but U.S officials refused to sell at that time.
The loss of the Light from Vermilion’s harbor was regrettable. In fact, it was so regrettable that a replica of it was built on the shore near the old Wakefield home in 1991. It seemed appropriate because Wakefield’s home – he called Harborview – had long since become the museum / headquarters of the Great Lakes Historical Society.
THE GREAT LAKES HISTORICAL SOCIETY: was organized on April 27, 1944, at a meeting at the Cleveland Public Library by Frederick Wakefield, A. A. Mastics, Milton N. Gallup, and William Stage “to promote interest in the collection and preservation of written material and objects dealing with the history, geology, and folklore of the Great Lakes.” The society originally housed its collections at the library. But in 1953, it established a museum in Wakefield’s Harborview mansion in Vermilion, Ohio. It was known for a time as the Wakefield Nautical Museum.
HARBORVIEW AND THE MUSEUM: had a good run – 109 years have passed since it was built, with at least sixty of them as a museum. But in later years, the structure was deemed to be too costly to maintain and / or renovate by the GLHS. Thus, just as the old Vermilion / Charity Shoal Light / civil war cannon, was considered to be obsolete so too has the museum property become. But unlike the old lighthouse the all-concrete mansion, despite its historical significance, can hardly be dismantled, moved and placed in a warehouse until someone recognizes its importance – no matter who owns it. Consequently, it will be demolished.
FOR AULD LANG SYNE AND OTHER REASONS: I am sorry to see certain things disappear. Unlike the Lighthouse I doubt that a replica of Harborview will ever be built. So all that will remain are a few photographs and lots of memories – until they, too, fade. But what’s gone is gone, and it’s time to move on. As the Charles Schulz character Charlie Brown once put it, “Sometimes I lay awake at night and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice comes to me and says, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’” You bet. It’ll probably take most, if not all, of 2018.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org