Written by Evan Engelhart
Established in 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s longest standing armed forces on the seas. Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has protected the country’s coastlines and served proudly in every one of our country’s conflicts. The Coast Guard is both a federal law enforcement agency and a military force. In times of peace, the Coast Guard operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security, enforcing the nation's laws at sea, protecting the marine environment, guarding the nation's vast coastline and ports, and performing vital life saving missions. In times of war, or at the direction of the President, the Coast Guard serves under the Department of the Navy, defending the nation against terrorism and foreign threats.
The Lakeside Marblehead U.S. Coast Guard Lifeboat Station was established on June 20, 1874, making it one of the first on the Great Lakes. The official opening of the station was in September of 1876 with Lucien M. Clemons as the first keeper. The station is located on the South shore of Lake Erie in Marblehead, Ohio and is responsible for a 458 square mile section of Lake Erie extending from Locust Point to Vermillion. Today, there are 38 active duty members and 10 reservists that staff the station.
In 1834, a newly-arrived pioneer named Alexander Clemons began to quarry and ship limestone from the 133 acres he had purchased near the Marblehead Lighthouse. Clemons was not only a commercial leader in the area but is credited as being one of the founders of Lakeside.
On May 1, 1875, Alexander's three sons Lucien, Hubbard, and A.J. Clemons witnessed the capsizing and sinking of the 102 foot schooner Consuelo as it left Kelleys Island loaded with stone blocks. A southwest gale had been blowing, but the three brothers commandeered a twelve foot skiff and rowed out to the wreck, finally managing to save two of the six crewmen aboard. They were in danger of sinking themselves and were finally assisted by the tugboat Winslow. For their “extreme heroic action”, Lucien was awarded the first Gold Lifesaving Medal ever awarded by Congress. His brothers each received the Silver award.
In 1876, the U.S. government extended its series of lifesaving stations to the south shore of Lake Erie by building a facility in Marblehead on the site of the present U.S. Coast Guard Station at the base of Frances Street. Lucien Clemons was appointed “keeper” of the Marblehead Lifesaving Station and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1897. The U.S. Lifesaving Service ultimately consisted of 376 stations with 77 on the Great Lakes with six of those in Ohio at Ashtabula, Cleveland, Fairport, Lorain, Marblehead and Toledo. These stations were crewed by six “surfmen” and the keeper and were capable of affecting rescues from land, using the breeches buoy and cannon-fired line, or from the water using a rowed surf boat. The stations used a ramp from the station to the water with a rail system for launching and retrieving the boat. The boats were typically about 26 feet in length.
In 1915, the U.S. government combined the U.S. Lifesaving Service and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service to form the Coast Guard, and the Marblehead station became a Coast Guard facility. The building stood until 1921 when it was replaced by a two story white wooden structure. This building was ultimately replaced in 1982 by the present brick station. In 1939, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was added to the Coast Guard, and they assumed responsibility for the Marblehead Lighthouse. Thus, Marblehead had two of the main agencies which made up the modern Coast Guard. Today, Station Marblehead is one of the largest and busiest Coast Guard stations on the Great Lakes.