Historic Marblehead Lighthouse Fresnel lens nearly turned to scrap

Oct 11, 2023 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 1 comment

When the Paris-made Fresnel lens was removed from the Marblehead Lighthouse and sent to Detroit in 1969, Bob Boytim worked until he brought it home. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)


Thanks to Bob Boytim and other village employees, people attending the Marblehead Lighthouse Festival on Saturday, Oct. 14 will have the opportunity to view an historic piece of local history that was nearly lost to the scrap heap. Boytim was responsible for preserving the Paris-made Marblehead Lighthouse Fresnel lens, which is on permanent display in the Keeper’s House Museum located at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park.

The Fresnel lens, which featured 128 prisms, guided ships to safety from the time it was installed in the Marblehead Lighthouse in 1903 until it was removed in 1969, according to Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society President Tom Hartman.

“When they took the lens out, I went to the top of the light and begged them not to take it, but they said they had to,” Boytim said. “They put it on a truck and took it to a warehouse in Detroit. They were going to put it in a dumpster. I wrote to my congressmen asking if I could bring it back to Marblehead.”

Robert Bird, who was mayor of Marblehead at that time, also sent an official request for the lens. Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society Historian, Lorrie Halblaub, said Robert received a letter from the U.S. Coast Guard giving permission for the village to retrieve the lens.

K.A. Long, who was then the Commander and U.S. Coast Guard Chief of the Comptroller Division of the Ninth Coast Guard District, wrote the letter. Robert’s daughter, current Marblehead Mayor Jacqueline Bird, still owns a copy of the letter which was dated April 6, 1970.

Dennis Kennedy of the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society displays the Fresnel lens in the Marblehead Keeper’s House and Gift Shop. The 300-pound lens provided a 300,000 candlepower signal that could be visible for up to 16 miles on Lake Erie. (Photo by D’Arcy Patrick Egan)

The letter granted permission for “Mr. Robert Boytim and Mr. Franklin Merrill, village employees, to pick up the 3½ Order Lens that is being donated to the Village of Marblehead.”

The letter noted that the lens was located at the Coast Guard base in Detroit, and Long suggested the men bring “sufficient packing material.”

At the time, Boytim was serving on the Board of Public Affairs and Merrill was Waterworks Superintendent. The two men, along with Village Councilman Jim Meiner, drove a water plant truck to Detroit to retrieve the 300-pound lens.

“We packed it with straw, rugs, blankets – anything to protect the prisms,” Boytim said. “It wasn’t a difficult journey, but it was a slow one.”

The lens was first displayed at the Marblehead Town Hall and then at the Coast Guard station before being moved to the Keeper’s House Museum. Boytim has lifelong ties to the light. He grew up down the road from the lighthouse and built a house within sight of the light in 1955. He still lives there.

“When I was a kid, they kept the lighthouse open, and I could go up anytime,” he said. Now, thanks to Boytim, the public can view the historic Fresnel lens anytime the museum is open.

The Keeper’s House Museum will be open during the Saturday, Oct. 14 Lighthouse Festival and then will close for the winter season.

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1 Comment

  1. Thomas Morness

    Is this a replica of the lens at Split Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota?


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