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The conical West Sister Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1847 along with a residency for the keeper of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was occupied from 1847 to 1937, when the lighthouse was automated. By this time, the property had grown to include a boathouse, a barn, chicken house, and a carpenters shop. It is reported that during dense fogs, a bell would be rung that was positioned at the top of the carpenter's shop. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Island as a wildlife sanctuary. During World War II, the island was used as an artillery range and the keeper's residence was destroyed by practicing soldiers. Today, the lighthouse stands and is one of the oldest active lighthouses on Lake Erie.


  • West Sister Island Lighthouse as it currently stands.
  • The West Sister Island and Residence in 1904
  • The West Sister Island Lighthouse in 1885.
  • The West Sister Island Lighthouse and Residence in 1885 before the addition
  • An arial view of the West Sister Island Lighthouse as it currently stands.

The West Sister Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1847. The Lighthouse was commissioned by Navy Lieutenant G. J. Pendergrast, who had been appointed by the Navy to select sites that needed a lighthouse in the Great Lakes. The lands were requisitioned from the public in 1838, and in 1847 the conical stone lighthouse was constructed, along with a brick residence for the keeper of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was manned until 1937, between the 90 years that the lighthouse operated many tragic and fascinating incidents occurred at West Sister Island.

The first keeper of the lighthouse was Nathan Edson, who worked on West Sister Island until his death in 1869. Edson was working at the lighthouse with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law, the latter of which, Martin Goulden, set out in the islands boat to acquire a coffin. Mid-way through his journey Goulden was caught in a blizzard and had to seek shelter at a nearby lighthouse on Turtle Island, which happened to be run by Nathan Wint Edson, son of the deceased lighthouse keeper. The two departed Turtle Island to retrieve the coffin. However, less than a mile into their journey, their boat was capsized by lake ice, and both men perished.

The West Sister Island Lighthouse saved many, in 1916, lighthouse keeper Chancie Fitzmorris conducted one such rescue. A severe storm was rolling through the area when a 45-foot yacht named Luella capsized around 2 miles west of the island. Chancie left the island in the station's small boat to rescue the passengers. Chancie had managed to save five adults, a baby, it was reported that part of the rescue entailed Chancie chopping through the walls of the yacht with an ax to save two women and the baby. Chancie suffered a tragedy of his own in 1919; most lighthouse keepers would leave their station when the shipping season would come to an end. Chancie enjoyed the solitude and therefore stayed on the island throughout the winter. On March 31st, 1919, Chancie was gored by a bull on the island; he had raised cattle, rabbits, turkey, and quail on the island. Chancie lit a red distress beacon in the lighthouse; however, no help came until two weeks later. The beacon was noticed on Locust Point, the nearest spot to the island from the mainland. It took the rescue crew five hours to reach the island, where the found Chancie on the brink of death. While he made a full recovery and eventually returned to his post, Chancie was denied government compensation due to the fact he was injured by his livestock and not while performing a government duty.

The West Sister Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1847. The Lighthouse was commissioned by Navy Lieutenant G. J. Pendergrast, who had been appointed by the Navy to select sites that needed a lighthouse in the Great Lakes. The lands were requisitioned from the public in 1838, and in 1847 the conical stone lighthouse was constructed, along with a brick residence for the keeper of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was manned until 1937, between the 90 years that the lighthouse operated many tragic and fascinating incidents occurred at West Sister Island.

The first keeper of the lighthouse was Nathan Edson, who worked on West Sister Island until his death in 1869. Edson was working at the lighthouse with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law, the latter of which, Martin Goulden, set out in the islands boat to acquire a coffin. Mid-way through his journey Goulden was caught in a blizzard and had to seek shelter at a nearby lighthouse on Turtle Island, which happened to be run by Nathan Wint Edson, son of the deceased lighthouse keeper. The two departed Turtle Island to retrieve the coffin; however, less than a mile into their journey, their boat was capsized by lake ice, and both men perished.

The West Sister Island Lighthouse saved many, in 1916, lighthouse keeper Chancie Fitzmorris conducted one such rescue. A severe storm was rolling through the area when a 45-foot yacht named Luella capsized around 2 miles west of the island. Chancie left the island in the station's small boat to rescue the passengers. Chancie had managed to save five adults, a baby, it was reported that part of the rescue entailed Chancie chopping through the walls of the yacht with an ax to save two women and the baby. Chancie suffered a tragedy of his own in 1919; most lighthouse keepers would leave their station when the shipping season would come to an end. Chancie enjoyed the solitude and therefore stayed on the island throughout the winter. On March 31st, 1919, Chancie was gored by a bull on the island; he had raised cattle, rabbits, turkey, and quail on the island. Chancie lit a red distress beacon in the lighthouse. However, no help came until two weeks later. The beacon was noticed on Locust Point, the nearest spot to the island from the mainland. It took the rescue crew five hours to reach the island, where the found Chancie on the brink of death. While he made a full recovery and eventually returned to his post, Chancie was denied government compensation due to the face he was injured by his livestock and not while performing a government duty.

Another rescue was carried out by George Gampher. Gampher was a keeper of the lighthouse from 1924-1937 and was the last keeper. In December of 1927, two fishermen were bringing in their nets when a chunk of floating ice tore their boat in two. The men jumped into a smaller boat, known as a dory, and tried to row ashore. A gale wind tore the oars from the boat, and the two bailed water with their hats until finally succumbing to the cold and passing out. When they awoke, they were being cared for by the mother of George Gampher, Mary. The two men's boat had washed ashore at West Sister Island and was discovered by George Gampher, who carried them back to the lighthouse. Gampher fired red signal flares into the air so the fisherman could be retrieved; due to heavy ice, regular ships could not reach the island, a plane was sent, it crashed on the island, leaving the two pilots as well as the two sailors, stranded on the island. Eventually, tug boats were brought in to reach the island and retrieve the four-stranded people.

The Lighthouse and the keeper's residence have undergone many changes since their first construction in 1847. The first of these significant changes came in 1868, after being reported by the Lighthouse Board, the lighthouse itself was retrofitted with an interior brick cylinder, cast-iron stairway, and a more modern lantern. The keeper's residence was also redone, connecting it to the lighthouse with a covered passageway. 1868 also featured the addition of a new boathouse and a well that replaced the cistern as the island's primary water source. In 1887 a 90-foot pier was constructed; however, it was destroyed by floating ice in 1888. In 1889 a harbor was constructed; however, it was also quickly damaged by floating ice; all subsequent water-based structures were constructed with wrought iron plates to protect them from debris. In 1902 a second story was added to the keeper's residence, by this time the buildings on the island included the residence, lighthouse, boathouse, a barn, chicken house, and a carpenters shop. It is reported that during dense fogs, a bell would be rung that was positioned at the top of the carpenter's shop.

With the lighthouse becoming automated in 1937, the residence was abandoned. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt establish the island as a wildlife sanctuary for the local bird population. The island saw its next use come during World War 2; during the war, the island was used by the U.S military as an artillery range. While the lighthouse suffered no damage during this period, the keeper's residence was completely destroyed. It is also reported that fuel tanks, jettisoned by dive bombers, can still be spotted on the island.

In 1975 the U.S government designated 77 acres of the island as wilderness, falling under the protection of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Services. The other 5 acres belong to the U.S Coastguard, this section of the island is where the lighthouse still resides. The lighthouse is still used today and is one of the oldest active lighthouses on Lake Erie.

Miller, Carol. West Sister Island Light. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form. Published August 4th 1983. National Register of Historic Places .

Anderson , Kraig. West Sister Island Lighthouse, https://www.lighthousefriends.com. Accessed November 26th 2019. https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=273.

Wobser, Dave. West Sister Island Lighthouse , http://lighthouse.boatnerd.com. Accessed November 26th 2019. http://lighthouse.boatnerd.com/gallery/Erie/westsister.htm.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=273

https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=273

https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=273

https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=273

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/West_Sister_Island/visit/plan_your_visit.html