Lighthouses speak louder than words in Tionesta, Pennsylvania. Nestled on an island along the Allegheny River—at the confluence of the Tionesta Creek—you’ll find a unique landmark that has come to embody the deepest values of community. The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse is a beacon of kindred community, attracting visitors from near and far.

Tionesta Lighthouse from above
The 75-foot Tionesta Lighthouse honors Jack Sherman’s love of lighthouses and his family’s heritage.

Jack Sherman, a long-time Tionesta resident and businessman, has been a dedicated Lion for more than 60 years. The Sherman family roots run deep in the small community—a gateway town for the Allegheny National Forest. Jack’s father, Joe Sherman, was a pillar of the business landscape, building success in farming, trucking, banking, and a still-operating sand and gravel business.

Nearly 20 years ago, Jack wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and find a way to give back to the community in a unique and meaningful way. Jack—a passionate lighthouse aficionado—decided Tionesta could use a beacon of its own.

In 2003, after personally spearheading design efforts, Jack Sherman broke ground on the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse. The 75-foot structure honors his love of lighthouses and his family’s heritage, but its foundation is firmly cemented in the community. Though the landmark is privately-owned, Sherman opens the lighthouse for tours throughout the year and the proceeds go directly to the Tionesta Lions Club.

Visitors can learn about the construction of the lighthouse, read up on the history of the Sherman family,and view the collection of nearly 300

High schoolers pose
Seventeen-year old Allen Johnston and his girlfriend, Olivia Siegel, take photographs inside the lighthouse and on its balcony
overlooking the river.

replica lighthouses on display. Funds from the lighthouse tours account for roughly one-third of the Lions’ annual budget. But why a lighthouse? “Lighthouses are beautiful structures. Architecture is at its best,” says Sherman. He wanted to “build something unique to become a landmark in Tionesta, and a place where the heritage of my family may be preserved.”

The lighthouse was completed in 2006 and immediately became a draw for visitors from near and far. Towering at one end of the 22-acre island, the lighthouse makes a beautiful backdrop for afternoon walks or picnics. Over the years, Sherman has slowly added features to the park, which now boasts a Peace Park with a veteran’s memorial, benches, a Statue of Liberty replica, and paths for walking and biking. Warm weather weekends are busy with kayakers, canoers, and anglers vying for the water’s famed musky fish. With a handicap-accessible ramp at the pier and flat paths, the lighthouse green is a place where everyone can spend an afternoon, including seniors and those with mobility restrictions.

Seventeen-year old Allen Johnston and his girlfriend, Olivia Siegel, were thrilled when they were able to take photographs inside the lighthouse and on its balcony overlooking the river. They loved the drama of the backdrop against their formalwear.

And when COVID-19 upended the wedding plans of Meredith and Mitchell Obenrader, Sherman and the Tionesta Lions welcomed them—and all 375 guests—onto the property for the nuptials. “The lighthouse really created a private and intimate feeling,” says Meredith. “The day truly came together perfectly.” Though a deviation from their original plan, it ended up feeling fortuitous. Mitchell’s older brother was also married at the lighthouse in 2018, making marriage at the lighthouse a kind of accidental tradition. “It just made our day even more special,” says Meredith.

Over the years, Sherman has slowly added features to the park, which now boasts a Peace Park with a veteran’s memorial, benches, a Statue of Liberty replica, and paths for walking and biking.

One of four lighthouses in Pennsylvania, the Sherman Lighthouse is distinctive with its river-island location and working, rotating beacon light. These rarities bring lighthouse lovers from all over for a chance to see in person and snap a photo or two. Many of those visitors—from motorcycle enthusiasts to lighthouse aficionados—tag the location on social media and the Sherman Lighthouse has made regular appearances in the Facebook group “Lighthouses of the World.”

More than 15 years after it was opened, the Tionesta gem has become an integral part of the surrounding community. “It’s as much a part of Tionesta as the Allegheny River or Allegheny Forest,” says John Straitiff, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau. The visitors’ bureau often includes the lighthouse in its tourism materials and social media posts. Straitiff says it’s not uncommon to get emails and calls about the lighthouse, folks eager to add the destination to their travel plans. “We have had inquiries from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, Harrisburg, and others. Usually within a three or four-hour drive,” he says. Part of what makes it such a desirable destination is the nearby Tionesta Market Village—a quaint collection of cottage-industry standouts that include a winery, chocolatier, bakery, and more. You wouldn’t know to look at it, but the town created the picturesque shopfronts from ingeniously designed storage containers. Lions came together with community leaders when, in 2003, an entire neighborhood block was devastated by fire. Lion Jim McGuire recounts that, “The fire…started in the Knotty Pine Restaurant. That is also where the Tionesta Lions held their meetings. The only thing of the Lions that survived the fire was the bell that is used to start and end the meetings.” For years, the community tried to find developers to revive the area. Finally, Sherman and fellow Lion Farley Wright, both on the Redevelopment Board, helped bring the storage shed-shops to life.

The unique shopping village and lighthouse, combined, give road trippers a one-of-a-kind experience. And the locals? They love it, too. Just grab a smiley cookie from Warner’s Bakery and a pecan snapper from L & B Chocolate Co. and meander the lighthouse walking trails. Kathy Licht, the owner of the bakery, has made plenty of cakes for lighthouse weddings, which are always teeming with good cheer. “Small town, big spirit,” she says.

It’s not always easy to capture that spirit in a photograph, even though the lighthouse has been the subject of many professional and amateur photographers. But Tionesta local Cody Magill may have done just that. After “patiently waiting for a night with clear skies, low humidity, no moon, and no fog,” he captured a breathtaking, star-speckled image of his favorite spot—and it just happened to be on his birthday.