Digest>Archives> October 1997

Hemmer's Lighthouse

By Stephanie Ricca


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Building the lighthouse attachment to the ...

What's even better than visiting your favorite lighthouse? Building your own and living in it. And that's just what newspaper publisher Rick J. Hemmer, his wife Linda, and daughter Brittany, of Avon Lake, Ohio, did. More than just a functioning addition to his family's home on the Lake Erie shoreline of Northeastern Ohio, "Hemmer's Lighthouse" serves as a fitting display area for Hemmer's vast collection of historic nautical memorabilia, much of which owes its lineage to notable Great Lakes vessels.

The 40-foot, 18 by 18-foot at base, lighthouse addition was constructed onto the west side of the existing house structure in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the American Lighthouse, by Muzzy Builders of Avon. Hemmer, who has owned his lakefront home since 1984, conceived the idea of adding a lighthouse addition, when he saw a similar one attached to a Huron, Ohio, home. "Everyone thinks a house has to look like one," Hemmer said. "People ask what the lighthouse is for; it's a functioning part of our home."

The three-floor addition incorporates useful family living space, while adding nautical flavor to the backdrop of Lake Erie. The ground floor contains a dining area, half bath, and lake-viewing area. The second floor offers a television/entertainment room, complete with telescope and guest bedroom with a full bath. A pull-down staircase leads out to the widow's walk surrounding the top of the lighthouse, offering a splendid view of lake activity as well as the nearby Cleveland skyline.

Hemmer's home sits on 1.2 acres of lakefront property. The original two-story structure, built around 1910, measures 45 by 35 feet, with a rear one-story addition built in 1993. All around the grounds and home, Hemmer has displayed his collection of rare nautical artifacts, which he finds at annual shows in the Great Lakes region.

Some of Hemmer's favorite pieces, two large bitts displayed in the front yard, come from the deck of Henry Ford II, an ore motor vessel designed especially for use on the Great Lakes. This ship, built in 1924 by the American Shipbuilding Company of Lorain, Ohio, was a link in the transportation of materials for Ford's auto industry. According to Hemmer, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison sailed with Henry Ford on the ship together. It was common at that time for industrialists to socialize, he said.

For many years, Henry Ford and her sister ship, Benson Ford, were the only large diesel-powered ore ships on the Great Lakes. In 1974, she was rebuilt as a self-unloader, and in 1989 sold and renamed Samuel Mather. She was scrapped in 1994, and Hemmer purchased the bitts, or "tie downs" afterwards.

Also displayed in the front yard, at the base of the lighthouse, is a 1000-pound anchor recovered from the bottom of Lake Erie off Ashtabula, Ohio. Hemmer indicated he did not know the history of the anchor, but jumped at the chance to purchase the item because anchors are so difficult to locate.

Inside the house, Hemmer has a solid brass, 300-pound binnacle compass from a 1942 World War II Navy ship displayed at the entrance to the lighthouse. The focus of the ground floor addition to the rear of the house is a complete helm station from a 1960 30-foot Owens craft, adding to the 1960s theme of the room. Wooden molds of a propeller blade from a 1920s Great Lakes freighter stand in a corner near an end table constructed from a propeller blade bolt and a lifeboat compass. A Five-foot 1920s schooner wheel also accents the fireplace in the main living room.

In addition to the large artifacts, a nautical motif is reinforced with various smaller pieces like life-boat oars hanging from the ceiling, lanterns, portholes, brass plates and nautical prints and decoys. "We love living on the water and the nautical effect," Hemmer said. "Guests are always bringing presents of small lighthouses and other nautical things for our collection."

This story appeared in the October 1997 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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