Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Museum
Backstory and Context
The Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum is housed in the former residence of Ashtabula Lighthouse keepers and the Coast Guard chief. The structure was built in 1871 and added on to in 1898. The museum opened in 1984 as the Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Memorial Museum and focuses on the history of maritime and surface transportation, specifically railroad, in the region.
The lighthouse keeper’s dwelling that the museum is currently housed in was constructed in 1871 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, United States Lighthouse Board, 10th District. An addition was added in 1896 to convert the house into a duplex for the Ashtabula Lighthouse Keeper, the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, and their families. The keepers alternated duties at the lighthouse, traveling by boat from the mainland to the station. In 1916, the lighthouse was relocated to a new pierhead, which allowed room for the construction of keepers’ quarters at the lighthouse station. Ownership of the house was transferred to the new local Coast Guard station in 1939.
In 1973, the keepers’ residence, which had served as Coast Guard housing, was deeded to the City of Ashtabula. Early plans to build a “Western Reserve and Marine History Museum” focusing on early American Indians in the region fell apart due to lack of funding, and ownership of the building reverted back to the U.S. Government in 1976.
The Ashtabula Junior Chamber of Commerce (“Jaycees”) and the Ashtabula Marine Museum Committee were awarded the building from the U.S. Government Service Administration (GSA) in 1982. Local history enthusiasts Paul Petros and Duff Brace partnered up to collect objects, raise money, and provide presentations about Ashtabula’s maritime history to transform the keeper’s residence into a museum. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on June 2, 1984 with the doors of the Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Memorial Museum officially opening to the public on October 26 of that year.
High on a hill, the museum looks out over the Ashtabula River with a view of a coal dock, coal conveyor, the bascule lift bridge, and the Ashtabula Lighthouse in Lake Erie. The museum’s exhibitions include photographs, models, maritime-related artifacts, an 1898 Fresnel lens, and the world’s largest piece of beach glass. Behind the museum is the pilot house from the Thomas Walters steamboat, and various artifacts are displayed on museum grounds.
As of summer 2019, the museum is nearing the end of a capital campaign for the construction of a larger museum and learning center. The proposed building would provide space for permanent and traveling exhibits, educational classes and programs, collections care and storage, and meetings and special events.
The Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum is entirely volunteer-run and is open to the public Friday through Sunday 12-5 p.m. from Memorial Day to the end of August and Saturday through Sunday 12-5 p.m. in September. Admission is $5.
Bundschuh, Scott. “Ashtabula Lighthouse Story (Archive).” Great Lakes Lighthouse Historian (blog). Accessed August 6, 2019. http://author-historian.blogspot.com/p/ashtabula-lighthouse-story-archive.html
Frisbie, Robert, Froncell Dobos, Raena Sidbeck, Carl Feather, and Ned Sherry, Jr. The Transporter 3, no. 2 (2016).
Frisbie, Robert, and Gertrude A. Karafa. The Transporter 4, no. 1 (2017).
Frisbie, Robert, conversation with author, July 19, 2019.
Terry, Shelley. "Maritime Museum opens for 2019 season." Star Beacon (Ashtabula, OH), June 7, 2019. https://www.starbeacon.com/news/local_news/maritime-museum-opens-for-season/article_c138abec-64a9-584d-852a-e2e049bdf533.html
Terry, Shelley. "Museum fundraising progressing City officials tour Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum; expansion efforts more than one-third of the way to goal." Star Beacon (Ashtabula, OH), Jan. 12, 2016. https://www.starbeacon.com/news/local_news/museum-fundraising-progressing-city-officials-tour-ashtabula-maritime-and-surface/article_1a98b01a-4ea3-573a-97c5-091542a06f35.html
Tucker, Earl. “History of the Ashtabula Lighthouse.” Ashtabula Lighthouse Restoration & Preservation Society. Accessed August 6, 2019. http://www.ashtabulalighthouse.com/history
Wessell, Stefanie. “Old storage home demolished to make room for planned Maritime Museum and Learning Center.” The Gazette (Ashtabula, OH). Accessed August 6, 2019. http://www.gazettenews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7690:old-storage-home-demolished-to-make-room-for-planned-maritime-museum-and-learning-center&catid=41&Itemid=219