Lightkeepers' Houses on West Boulevard
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Backstory and Context
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Maritime trade on the Great Lakes began in the 1600s. In 1805 Cleveland was recognized as an official point of entry by the federal government, and Cleveland’s first lighthouse was built in 1830 on the corner of Water Street (now W. 9th street). The lightkeepers who would live on West Boulevard were originally housed in a grand Victorian mansion next to a later lighthouse also on W. 9th street. In May 1926, the Coast Guard sold this residence. Then, Congress allocated $50,000 to purchase the duplexes on West Boulevard: 2099-2101 ($23,500) and 2093-95 ($19,000). In 1927, these four lightkeepers and their families moved onto West Boulevard:
- 2095 Robert E. Jones (Third Assistant 1926 [?] – at least 1940)
- 2093 Joseph R. Prince (Second Assistant 1926 – 1937)
- 2101 Charles E. Perry (Head Keeper 1914 – 1941, First Assistant 1912 – 1914, Second Assistant 1911–1912, Third Assistant 1910-1911)
- 2099 Samuel E. Crozier (Head Keeper 1941 – 1949, First Assistant at least 1919 – at least 1940, Third Assistant 1917- ?)
The lightkeepers commuted to the lighthouses and the Coast Guard Station (about a 5-mile drive) in a rotation of shifts.
The West Boulevard lightkeepers would have served the Cleveland harbor during its busiest period—the 1920s and 30s—when Cleveland’s maritime trade was at its most prosperous. They were responsible for 6 lights and 2 fog signals around Cleveland’s harbor and at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Today, three of those lights are still operational: the West and East Pierhead Lights (built in 1910-11 on breakwaters) and the Cleveland East Entrance Light. Before the lights were automated, they had to be manned 24 hours a day and inspected daily. The West Pierhead Light had accommodations for keepers staying overnight in the tower. The lights on the pierheads originally had Fresnel lenses, which needed daily cleaning because any buildup of dust would dull the beam.
Some of the lights were only accessible by boat, and lightkeepers often braved dangerous weather as they performed their duty. According to lightkeeper, Charles Perry (2101 West Blvd), one of his crew would get stranded at a lighthouse due to inclement weather three to four times a season. In 1949, Samuel Crozier (2099 West Blvd), risked his life while inspecting the East Harbor Light, which had stopping signaling during a brutal winter storm. He rowed out in dangerous conditions to make the repairs, getting drench by icy waves. On his return journey, he saw an outgoing 600-ft freighter bearing down on his tiny rowboat. Crozier could see through the snow that the freighter was only 100 feet away. He said it was the most “strenuous bit of row-boating” in his then 32-year-long career . But, Crozier managed to clear the freighter, relying on his own steam and row-boating expertise.
West-siders may also remember the fog signal attached to the West Pierhead light. Known as “the cow,” the foghorn let off two blasts every 30 seconds that reverberated for 16 miles or more when in use. Unfortunately, smog and smoke from Cleveland’s bustling industrial centers could set the signal off even if there was not dangerous fog. A Plain Dealer article featuring Charles Perry watering the lawn in front of his West Boulevard residence reminded potentially annoyed Clevelanders that the lighthouse and keepers played a key role in the city’s economic welfare, despite the annoying noise.
After the lightkeepers moved off of West Boulevard, the Coast Guard used the houses for personnel and guests working at or visiting the Ninth Coast Guard District Station. In 1951, 2095 West Blvd was occupied by Ohio native, Rear Admiral James A. Hirschfield (b.1902- d,1993), who commanded the Ninth District from 1946 to 1951. Hirschfield became famous for commanding the USCGC Campbell in a successful attack against German U-boats during World War II. For his efforts, he was awarded a purple-heart and numerous other decorations over his 39-year career. Hirschfield returned to the Cleveland area when he retired in 1962. He became the president of the Lake Carriers Association, a trade organization serving companies operating cargo vessels on the Great Lakes. Another notable resident, Rear Admiral Frank L. Leamy lived at 2095 West Blvd in 1954. Under his leadership of the Ninth District from 1954-56, he inaugurated a motorboat safety program in the Great Lakes. The Ninth District examined 60,633 crafts during this period, an all-time record of safety examinations.
In 1988, the Coast Guard sold the houses on West Boulevard to civilian homeowners. But their ownership of these duplexes forged an unlikely link between the West Boulevard neighborhood and Cleveland’s larger maritime and military history. The lightkeepers who lived here were guardians of the guardians that lit the way into and out of Cleveland’s busy port.
 Plain Dealer 9 Jan 1949.
Anderson, Kraig & Marilyn. Cleveland Harbor Main Entrance, Lighthousefriends.com. Accessed June 17th 2020. https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=282.
City of Cleveland, City Hall. Records of Building Permits. Cleveland, Ohio.
Cleveland Landmarks Commission. The City Beautiful Movement in Cleveland 1893-1930. Cleveland, Ohio. Certified Local Government Historic Contexts, 1991.
Cleveland Landmarks Commission Records: Lighthouses of Cleveland. File no. 510.
Cleveland State University . Cleveland Memory Project. Accessed June 17th 2020. https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/press/search/searchterm/lighthouse.
Patterson, Janice. Cleveland’s Lighthouses. Charleston, South Carolina. Arcadia, , 2009.
Plain Dealer. NewsBank: America's Historical Newspapers. Accessed January , 2020. https://infoweb-newsbank-com.
Coast Guard Historians Office, https://www.lighthousefriends.com/cleveland_newdwelling2_cgh.jpg
Coast Guard Historians Office, https://www.lighthousefriends.com/cleveland_newdwelling1_cgh.jpg
National Park Service. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nps.gov%2Fmaritime%2Fnhlpa%2Fhandbook.htm&psig=AOvVaw2SXUjxrnMk-N2285x0s2HH&ust=1592497974096000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCJCRi7mjieoCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAI
Plain Dealer, 7 Jul 1939. https://infoweb-newsbank-com
Cleveland Memory Project. https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/press/id/14147/rec/18
The Plain Dealer June 6, 1934. https://infoweb-newsbank-com
Cleveland Memory Project, https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/press/id/14150/rec/20
United States Coast Guard Historian's Office
Julia LaPlaca, 2020
Julia LaPlaca, 2020
Julia LaPlaca, 2020