Jul 9, 2017

The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse

The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse sits on Lighthouse Island in the Allegheny River in Tionesta (Forest County), Pa.
I've had an appreciation for lighthouses since I was young. When I used to make drawings, I illustrated several East Coast lighthouses that I had visited and some that I hoped to see one day. Examples included the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse in the Delaware Bay near Lewes, and the Fire Island Lighthouse in New York. These drawings have been lost to time, but my interest in lighthouses persists.

If I'm traveling somewhere and I know there are lighthouses in my proximity, I make it a priority to find them. Back when Cassidy and I visited Lake Erie for the first time in 2013, I refused to return home until I found all three of the Lake Erie lighthouses in Pennsylvania. We accomplished the goal, and I put in a decent amount of time to write a post about those lighthouses.

Please read it to make my carpal tunnel worth it.
I saw the majority of Pennsylvania's lighthouses on that trip because the state has only about a handful of them; however, it's difficult to determine how many lighthouses are in Pa. Some sources claim all of them are on Lake Erie. Another website, www.lighthousefriends.com, which is my top resource for lighthouse research, lists the three Erie lighthouses and a fourth one called the Turtle Rock Lighthouse, which sits on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

To my knowledge, the "official" total of lighthouses in Pa. is four -- but that depends on what people consider a "lighthouse." If we're willing to bend the rules a bit, then we need to acknowledge a fifth Pennsylvania lighthouse: The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse.

No, it's not a lawn ornament that I photoshopped to appear larger.
The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse is a 75-foot tower that sits atop a small hill on Lighthouse Island in the Allegheny River. It stands just outside the small borough of Tionesta in Forest County, about 110 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

There are some reasons why the Sherman Light's claim to the state's lighthouse list is debatable.

One key argument is the tower's purpose. Lighthouses were constructed with the intent of acting as geographic landmarks during the day and a signal for mariners at night or during inclement weather. They act as safeguards in some of the more treacherous areas of oceans, seas and even large lakes.

The creator of the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse had a similar idea in mind when designing it, according to information plaques at the site. The designer, J. Jack Sherman, conceived the idea of building a lighthouse in Tionesta in ode to his family's legacy. The light's official groundbreaking was April 24, 2003, according to a plaque.

The following quote is written on one of the plaques near the lighthouse: "The lighthouse was built as a beneficial landmark for the Tionesta community and to serve as a place to preserve the heritage of the Sherman family."

Sherman did have the idea of building his lighthouse as a landmark for Tionesta, but I failed to find any plaque or website stating he had it created to operate as a beacon for troubled sailors on the Allegheny River. It so happens, though, that the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse had a rotating light added to its lantern room on Nov. 10, 2004, according to a plaque. So technically, the Sherman Light could function as a working signal if someone's fishing boat happened to capsize while night fishing on the Allegheny. You never know, right?

The water does look treacherous.
Another factor to take into account is "what can be considered a lighthouse?" If you take the word in its most literal sense, you would argue a "lighthouse" would be a house that emits light. Take a look at pictures of most lighthouses, however, and you'll find they're more of a tower than a livable dwelling. There are exceptions, and it's a coincidence that one of them is the Turtle Rock Lighthouse I mentioned earlier, which is a house-like structure with a tower jetting out of a semi-oval portion of the building. The Presque Isle Lighthouse located near Erie is also attached to a house.

My future home will look something like this.
 Anyway, lighthouses tend to be tall towers with a light source contained in a room made up of glass windows known as the lantern room. Most lighthouses have a spiral staircase that allowed the keeper to climb to the top of the tower to maintain the lantern. The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse fits these descriptions. The lighthouse is 75 feet tall with a diameter of 16 feet, according to a plaque. The tower also features a basement and six floors -- many of which feature historical displays and artwork -- and spiral staircase with 76 steps.

If you need any more proof of the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse's validity, you can check out Pennsylvania's official travel website. The state might not consider it an "official" lighthouse, but it does list it as a tourist attraction, which is what most lighthouses across America are used for these days.

Although I could not climb the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse the day I visited it, I'm confident -- based off the physical structure of the tower and J. Jack Sherman's purpose for it  -- that it can be considered a lighthouse just as much as any you would find along a beach or one of the Great Lakes. If anything, Sherman's lighthouse is one of the most unique family memorials I've ever seen. I think I'm going to have to settle for a 3-foot tall wooden model next to my porch for the "Yermal Memorial Lighthouse."

If you plan to visit all of Pennsylvania's lighthouses, you should put the Sherman Memorial Light on your list. The tower sits on the gorgeous Lighthouse Island on the Allegheny River. This island offers a panoramic view of the river and the rolling hills surrounding it. There is also a gravel trail about a mile long that takes you around the perimeter of the island. It offers a "nautical" atmosphere for walkers and joggers in a landlocked Pennsylvania county.

The lighthouse is open for tours but only on a few dates throughout the year. These tours are handled by the Tionesta Lions Club, and the tour dates can be found on their website. A visit to the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse is likely a long trip for most people, but if you coordinate it with a trip to a place such as Pittsburgh or Lake Erie, the stopover to the lighthouse is a worthwhile endeavor. Tionesta also has some lodging and is close to numerous campgrounds in the Allegheny National Forest and Cook Forest State Park. Make a vacation out of the experience and witness what some people are willing to do to show their devotion to their loved ones.