August 27, 2014

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Lorain lighthouse officials hope to replace its lens

LORAIN — The Lorain lighthouse is a recognizable symbol of the city, but for the past two decades an essential piece of the beacon has been in the possession of a lighthouse in a different state.

Over the past few years, the volunteers working on the Lorain lighthouse and the Charlotte-Genesee lighthouse in Rochester, N.Y., have been talking about who rightfully owns the lens that formerly was in the Lorain lighthouse.

“I wouldn’t call it a dispute,” said Richard Novak, executive director for the Lorain Port Authority. “We just feel that it would be nice to have the lens come home.”

Currently, the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse has the lens, which was stored in a Coast Guard warehouse in Cleveland after the Lorain lighthouse was decommissioned.

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JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
The original lens used in the Lorain lighthouse, seen Wednesday, is now in the possession of a lighthouse in Rochester, N.Y.

But how the lens made its way to New York is another story.

Dave Kramer, a lighthouse volunteer for more than 15 years, said that when the Coast Guard shut down the Lorain lighthouse in 1966, the interior was stripped. The lens was removed and stored by the 9th Coast Guard District in Cleveland, where it remained until the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Historical Society contacted the Coast Guard for a lens in 1983.

Kramer said the reason the Rochester lighthouse has the lens is because a specific type was needed — a fourth-order Fresnel lens — consisting of a large glass cylinder with a mirror that refracts the light to a visibility of 12 to 14 miles. The one from Lorain happened to fit the need.

“The people in New York didn’t set out to get the Lorain lens. They just set out to get a lens,” Kramer said.

Replacing the lens, however, would be a costly move for the Lorain lighthouse. Glass lenses are no longer produced, making the purchase a hefty expense.

“They’re very intricate, and they aren’t made anymore,” Novak said. “Can we afford to buy a new one? No.”

Kramer said the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse doesn’t own the lens, but rather it is on loan from the Coast Guard, which inherited ownership of the lens when it took over the Lorain lighthouse in 1939.

When the New York lighthouse’s lease with the Coast Guard for the lens is up, the Coast Guard will have to decide who gets it.

“If we could bring it back to town, that would be a nice goal to accomplish for us and the community,” said John Malanowski, president of the Lorain Lighthouse Foundation.

As it stands, no decisions have been made as to what the foundation will do to acquire a new lens for the Lorain lighthouse.

“We have not established any plans,” said Steve Luca, chairman of the board for the Lorain Lighthouse Foundation. “Over the years, we’ve talked to people about it, but we don’t have any ongoing plans at this time.”

Contact with the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Historical Society was made a few years ago to discuss the lighthouse lens, but there have been no recent efforts, Luca said.

“What we are trying to do is get the lens back in Lorain where it belongs, because it’s always been here,” he said. “All we want is to get the lens back in Lorain.”

Contact Kristen Halliday at 653-6285 or khalliday@chroniclet.com