Plan for your Day of Sightseeing and History:

Climb the South Bass Lighthouse

Bring your binoculars, camera, and hiking boots!

Explore the Island

Climb the South Bass Lighthouse

South Bass Island is located in the Bass Island region in the western basin of Lake Erie. The height of the island's popularity was reached in the 1890s and was marked by the opening of the Hotel Victory in 1892. Following that event, the South Passage became increasingly congested with public passenger and private leisure vessels. Soon thereafter, problems associated with increased boat traffic in the South Passage were brought to the attention of the U.S. Lighthouse Board. On February 15, 1893, the Board approved construction of a lighthouse and appropriated $8,000 for the project. The federal government purchased the lighthouse site (on the extreme southwest shore of the island) from Mary and Alfred Parker on May 18, 1895.

Lighthouse construction was under the direction of the U.S. Engineering Department and was supervised by J.P. Bumpus of Albton, N.Y., the superintendent of the Tenth Lighthouse District. In contrast to the stereotypical lighthouse with a huge tower and small detached keepers quarters, South Bass Island Lighthouse contained two and one half stories of living space, a full basement, and an attached tower. The Queen Anne style home had many modern amenities including a laundry room, kitchen range, hot water reservoir, furnace, cistern, and hydraulic force pump. The 60-foot tower was fitted with a fourth order $1,500 Frensel lens. The light was first lit on July 10, 1897. The lighthouse, which contained no fog signal, operated daily from early March through late December. The red brick structure was laid in Flemish bond.

During the years the South Bass Island lighthouse operated the technology associated with navigational systems advanced greatly. In 1962, as lighthouse keeper Prochnow neared retirement, the U.S. Coast Guard decided to automate the lighthouse. A steel tower with an electronic light was built on the property.

Lighthouse ownership was transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's Division of Surplus Property in 1967. Noting the many research advantages of the site and its close proximity to The Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory (on Gibraltar Island), the University Trustees agreed that Ohio State would accept care of the property. In October 1967, the property was transferred to Ohio State by a 30-year Quit Claim Deed. The deed ended in 1997 when permanent ownership was transferred to the university (the Coast Guard maintains ownership of the tower).

In 1983 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration installed a $50,000 meteorological station enabling satellite transmission of weather statistics to the National Weather Service.

The lighthouse and grounds have typically not been accessible to the public, but this changed in 2007 when the university started offering tours during the summer. Besides the lighthouse and a modern replacement light tower, an original barn and an oil house remain standing on the property. The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 5, 1990.