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.