Replica Lighthouses Reach into History
Vermillion Lighthouse reflects early U.S history, fledging trade.
The Vermillion Lighthouse on the northside of Lake Havasu’s island reflects a history reaching back to the 1800s along the St. Lawrence River and early United States' international trade. It’s a popular Lake Havasu travel and visitor destination for residents and tourists alike.
The original wooden lighthouse, fueled by whale oil and shining a Fresnel lens, helped guide the steamship Rosedale on a maiden 1888 voyage from Sunderland, England. The voyage was the first direct steamer journey from London to Chicago via the St. Lawrence River and Welland Canal, which connected Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on the U.S.-Canadian border.
The Rosedale voyage proved that grains from Chicago silos and other Great Lake ports could be shipped directly to London without transshipment – yielding significant cost and time savings and sparking economic growth.
The original wooden Vermillion lighthouse was built in 1847 where the Vermillion River empties into Lake Erie. A $3,000 U.S. congressional grant paid for it, and in 1866 Congress funded a permanent iron lighthouse at the site. The iron reportedly was from cannons salvaged after the battle of Fort Sumter, the battle that ignited the American Civil War.
The lighthouse’s colorful history reaches back two centuries serving two Great Lakes, plus includes a nearby clandestine drop-off point where bootleggers delivered illegal Canadian liquor during the days of U.S. Prohibition.
Lake Havasu’s Vermillion Lighthouse is the ninth dedicated lighthouse replica of 27 now strategically dotted along Lake Havasu’s more than 450 miles of shoreline. Parker Dam on the south end of the lake holds back the Colorado River to store more than 619,000-acre feet of water that eventually flows downstream to Arizona and California aqueducts.
Named in 1939 after the indigenous Mojave word for blue, Lake Havasu is a boating paradise. Jet skis, high-power cigarette boats, sailing craft, bobbing fishing boats, and floating party platforms crisscross the water. The lighthouses enhance boater navigation and safety both night and day. Using Coast Guard maritime standards for lights and power, the lighthouses flash warnings and direction for nighttime boaters. During the day, the brightly painted standout colors help boaters see the lighthouses to gauge where they are.
The Vermillion light has a 3.5 nautical mile reach, which means its beacon can be seen across the entire lake and upriver. The lighthouses on the city’s Pittsburg Point island represent historic lighthouses on the Great Lakes, while those on the east side of the river represent eastern U.S. lighthouses and those on the west side western lighthouses.
The replica lighthouses are built and maintained by the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club, a nonprofit community organization. When the group dedicated the Vermillion lighthouse in 2005, it included a U.S. Navy boatswain’s piping ceremony in commemoration of George Darrow, a U.S. Navy chief radioman and Lake Havasu City resident. The boatswain’s call, or bosum call, is a Navy tradition to pipe aboard distinguished guests to ships or say farewell at funerals. The old city of Vermillion was known as the town of sea captains, which the Darrow family saw as fitting tribute for George’s memorial and a perfect reason to sponsor the lighthouse construction.
Tourists and visitors often accept the challenge of seeing all the lighthouses along the shore. Some of them can be seen only by hiking to them on trails, and some are visible only by boat.
The Lighthouse Club will have more opportunities to build replicas as enthusiasts say about 75 will eventually be needed. Fundraising continues.
The Vermillion lighthouse is a great place to sit on the bluff and enjoy a dramatic sunset in the cool of the evening.