TIONESTA — Lighthouses are popular tourist destinations, and many people travel to Lake Erie or the Atlantic seaboard for the experience.
But nestled among the hills of the small Forest County town of Tionesta stands one of the few inland lighthouses in the world — the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse.
Tionesta Lions Club member Mike Thompson said the 50-foot tall lighthouse was the brainchild of New Bethlehem native Jack Sherman. The Sherman family was involved in a number of businesses, including New Bethlehem Bank, Sherman Coal Co., Karimor Farms and Tionesta Sand and Gravel.
Sherman decided to repurpose the island used by the sand and gravel company, erecting the lighthouse on a mound in the middle of the island and dedicating it in memory of his parents.
“It’s a tremendous monument for Jack’s parents,” Lions club member Farley Wright said last weekend during the club’s final fundraising tour of the lighthouse for the season.
Wright said that not only does the 11-year-old lighthouse serve as a museum for the Sherman family history, but it has become a major fundraiser for the local Lions Club and a huge tourist draw for the small town of Tionesta.
Thompson said that Sherman is a member of the Lions, and allows the club to use the lighthouse one day each month from June through October. Tours are generally offered for a $5 donation on the second Saturday of each month, and the third Saturday in August.
Visitors can climb the 76-step spiral staircase, stopping at each level along the way. The basement area features a miniature seaside village model, while the first floor showcases an overview of lighthouses. The second floor highlights Sherman family history, the third floor offers artwork of lighthouses by local artists, and the fourth floor holds a collection of lighthouse miniatures. The fifth floor tells the story of the lighthouse’s design and construction.
Those who reach the sixth level, known as the lantern room, can take in the 360-degree view of the Allegheny River valley.
In addition to the lighthouse, the island also offers a walking trail, with several attractions along the way including a fishing pier, an American Flag display, a wedding chapel, and a replica of the old wood frame dam that was once located nearby.
Lions Club member Jim McGuire said Lighthouse Island is a true island, bordered on one side by the Allegheny River, on another side by Tionesta Creek and on the final side by a small waterway that connects the two larger rivers. He said that it was established as an official island in the 1800s during the first case heard at the nearby Forest County Courthouse.
McGuire said the lighthouse has been a great benefit to the club and the region.
“It’s been a good source of income to support our local projects,” he said, noting that the Lions awards student scholarships each year in addition to its service for people with vision disorders.
The Lions said people come from all over to see the out-of-place lighthouse. They’ve had visitors from all over the country, and during last week’s tour, people made the trek from Bedford, Lancaster, Altoona, East Brady and many other locales.
The group is hoping for even greater numbers of visitors next year as the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse is set to be listed in the official passport book produced each year by the U.S. Lighthouse Society. People can visit the lighthouse to get their passport stamped, McGuire said.
Since the lighthouse opened in 2006, Wright said it has been a boon for Tionesta and Forest County. The lighthouse’s construction, he said, sparked the development of the nearby Market Village along the main street in Tionesta, which offers a variety of small shops that are mainly open in the summer months. The village is preparing for its Christmas in the Village, which will be held Nov. 3.
“It helps bring traffic into town,” Wright said of the the lighthouse and village.
Another benefit, Wright joked, is the lighthouse has prevented any maritime disasters.
“We’ve not had a shipwreck since it went up,” he said. “It’s working.”