VERMILION — One of the most instantly recognizable symbols of this picturesque lakefront town is the replica lighthouse that overlooks Lake Erie from the slope of the now-closed Inland Seas Maritime Museum.
“That lighthouse is part of Vermilion’s history, and we can’t take it with us, so we wanted to make sure that it would be protected,” Christopher Gillcrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society said Friday.
The historical society owns and operated the building, which closed last September to begin preparations for the move to a larger new home on the banks of the Maumee River in downtown Toledo slated to open in May 2013.
The lighthouse — a 1992 replica of one that stood in 1870 until 1929 at the end of the city’s lakefront pier — will officially be turned over to the city at 8 tonight when Gillcrist presents keys to the 16-foot structure to Mayor Eileen Bulan.
The city is in the process of generating the $1.65 million to purchase the museum building and its 2.3-acre parcel.
Fundraising efforts began after the city and historical society announced in July 2011 that the city parks board would exercise a 2½-year option on the site in the hopes of acquiring it for future use as a waterfront park or other pubic facility.
Agreement on the purchase option, which required an initial $200,000 raised via donations, was reached by both sides to prevent the museum from commercial development.
Developers began inquiring about the valuable waterfront property as soon as word got out that the museum was going to close.
Gillcrist said museum officials are confident the city will raise the money to buy the land and museum building. The option on the site remains in place until the end of 2013.
Even if the city is unable to generate the money for the purchase, the historical society still wanted the city to have the lighthouse.
“We are going through the (museum) collection to donate other items to the Vermilion Archival Society and Ritter Library,” Gillcrist said. “There was no point in our trying to take the lighthouse. It is the most obvious of all the artifacts and should remain here.”
The restricted deed under which the city will assume ownership of the lighthouse requires that it must be maintained as a visual and architectural icon.
Flagging attendance, falling revenue and lack of exhibit space prompted the decision to shutter the Vermilion museum in favor of the new 16,000-square-foot, $6.1 million National Great Lakes Maritime Museum in Toledo where annual attendance is projected between from 37,000 and 61,000.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.