Northwest Ohio Tourism
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1904 Green Island Lighthouse

Green Island Lighthouse

Very few Lake Erie visitors are aware of the abandoned lighthouse on Green Island, the Division of Wildlife's only island Wildlife Area. The skeletal remains of the stone structure are normally covered by heavy foliage throughout most of the warmer months. Very few lighthouse buffs are even aware of its existence, although this is not surprising since the island is not open to the public.

All that remains of the historic light station constructed in 1864 are the ruins of the stone light tower and the attached keepers dwelling, an out building, and a few concrete walkways crisscrossing the island.

The original Green Island Lighthouse was a wooden frame building first built in 1854. Almost 10 years later it was destroyed by fire on New Years Eve 1863 during a particularly severe winter storm.

1894 Green Island LighthouseColonel Charles Drake and his family were just sitting down to dinner when, above the howling winds, they heard the crackle of flames. Drake dashed outside to find the entire 2nd story ablaze. Throwing a ladder against the house, he rushed up to the flames with a bucket of water. Close behind was his wife, passing more water scooped from Lake Erie. They worked feverishly to control the fire, but after some 30 buckets of water, they knew their efforts were hopeless. Neither the rain nor the spray from Lake Erie’s pounding waves had any effect on the flames fanned by gale-force winds.

Green Island is only about 2 miles across South Bass Island, but Drake knew that no one could possibly cross the raging, half-frozen waters in the dark. Turning his efforts to saving his family, Drake raced into the burning structure to retrieve blankets and mattresses – anything that would keep them from freezing during the long night ahead. In subzero temperatures, the Drakes huddled together in the island’s lone outbuilding, the outhouse.

Green Island Lighthouse 1907

Partygoers at the Doller Hotel in Put-in-Bay could see flames whipped by the winds. Pitt Drake, the colonel’s son, was among them. He was frantic to reach his family. Pitt's friends had to restrain him from trying make a rescue attempt that would only have made the tragedy worse. Early the next day, Pitt and his friends launched 2 cutters to try and make their way to the island. Using large pieces of wood, they pushed their way through the heavy ice chunks. When they reached Green Island, Pitt began searching the smoldering ruins. A shout from the outbuilding brought tears of relief. Although the Drakes were suffering from burns and frostbite, they were alive.

Green Island Lighthouse RuinsA year after the tragic fire, a new square-towered, limestone lighthouse and attached two-story keeper's house were constructed which served duty until 1926 when it was abandoned and replaced with a steel tower along the south side of the island that now guides vessels through Lake Erie's South Passage.

The gutted limestone shell lies hidden in the island trees and bushes. Today, Green Island is owned by the state of Ohio and is used as a bird sanctuary. Today's visitors must secure permission from the state to roam the island.

One new guest to the island is the return of the Lake Erie Water Snake. The harmless snake, although they will bite but are non-poisonous, had been documented as living on the island as far back as the 1930s, but by the 1980s, the endangered snake had been missing from the island. However, several years ago, it was discovered that the snake had returned to the desolate island and apparently is thriving.

Today's Green Island Lighthouse

Green Island Lighthouse Today

Today's Green Island Lighthouse is a real beauty if you like erector sets. The structure looks more like staging for a rock concert but it does its job for helping boats identify their location. There has been a total of 3 lighthouses on Green Island. The first, a wood structure, burned to the ground. The second was abandoned in the 1920s, and later was further destroyed by vandals.