December 4, 2013
November 13, 2013
We’ve covered the Haunting of Seul Choix Lighthouse on Michigan in Pictures. Dave Wobster has an article on Seul Choix Light at Boatnerd.com. He writes that Seul Choix (“only choice” as the only safe harbor in the area) was popular with Native Americans as early as the 1600s due to the abundant whitefish and lake trout that were waiting to be caught in Lake Michigan. A fishing village was established in the mid 1800s and a trading post around 1850.
The early navigation aids along the northern Lake Michigan coast were the lighthouses at St. Helena Island (1872) and Peninsula Point (1866). This left a 100-mile gap of dark shoreline with Seul Choix Bay located near the middle. Efforts were soon started to have a lighthouse constructed on Seul Choix Point. The efforts were successful in 1886 when Congress appropriated $15,000 to build a light tower and fog signal on the point. Another $8,000 was added before the project was completed. Various complications and the rebuilding of the original tower delayed completion of the station.The light was first shown in August, 1892, but the complex was not completed until 1895 with the finishing of the fog signal building. The complex consisted of the present conical 78-foot tower and attached 2-story keeper’s dwelling, a steam fog signal building, stable, boathouse, two oil storage buildings, a brick privy, and boat dock and tramway to the fog signal building.
The keeper’s dwelling was expanded in 1925 with a lean-to addition to the west side. The interior living space was divided with a wall to provide equal space for an additional family. The wall has since been removed, but the building still contains two kitchen areas. Particular attention should be paid to the unique rounded gables on the east end of the dwelling. While they are reminiscent of a sailing schooner stern, history does not provide a reason for this detail.
The 78-foot high white conical tower is the typical elaborate “Poe-Style” named after General Orlando M. Poe who provided the original design. The Poe-style light towers are easily recognized by the ornate brackets which support the gallery around the lantern room and the four windows below the gallery which have semi-circular stone arch head pieces.
Read on for more including some photos of Seul Choix details at Boatnerd.com. The Seul Choix Pointe Lighthouse is maintained by the Gulliver Historical Society and you can get a lot more info (and a snippet of a cool song that plays when you load) at their site.
Bill took this shot in 1997 with Plustek OpticFilm 7600. He writes that Seul Choix is located on the north shore of Lake Michigan a little east of Manistique. View his photo background big and see more in his great Lighthouses slideshow.
Many (many) more Michigan lighthouses at Michigan in Pictures!
November 7, 2013
100 years ago today the most devastating storm in Great Lakes history began. It raged across the Great Lakes from November 7-10, 1913. As NOAA’s commemorative website explains:
In November of 1913 the Great Lakes were struck by a massive storm system combining whiteout blizzard conditions and hurricane force winds. The storm lasted for four days, during which the region endured 90 mile per hour winds and waves reaching 35 feet in height. With only basic technology available, shipping communication and weather prediction systems were not prepared for a storm of such devastating force. When the skies finally cleared, the Great Lakes had seen a dozen major shipwrecks, an estimated 250 lives lost, and more than $5 million in damages (the equivalent of more than $117 million today).
Nicknamed the “White Hurricane” and the ‘Freshwater Fury” the 1913 storm remains the most devastating natural disaster to ever strike the Great Lakes. One hundred years later, NOAA commemorates the Storm of 1913 not only for the pivotal role it plays in the history of the Great Lakes but also for its enduring influence. Modern systems of shipping communication, weather prediction, and storm preparedness have all been fundamentally shaped by the events of November 1913.
October 30, 2013
Grand Island North Light, photo by Jeff Shook
The photo above is from the Grand Island North Light page at Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light. Head over there for all kinds of information about one of Michigan’s lonelier lighthouses.
As Halloween is tomorrow, I thought I’d share the tale of a mysterious murder at North Light from the Center for U.P. Studies at Northern Michigan University.
On June 12, 1908 the body of 30-year old Edward S. Morrison, the assistant lightkeeper at North Light, was discovered in a small sailboat near Au Sable Point. Although identification took a while, since few of the local people knew him, it was definite once made. Morrison had a distinctive tattoo of thirteen stars on his left arm, leaving no doubt as to the identity of the remains. Initial reports said his head had been “battered almost beyond recognition” and that “the head and shoulders were fearfully crushed, as if battered by a club.” Inexplicably though, a coroners jury concluded death was due to exposure, thought to be caused by the rough weather on the 7th. A reported second coroners jury also examined the evidence and returned a verdict that the members were not able to tell how he died, but they had a strong suspicion of murder!
Morrison had been assistant keeper only six weeks when he met his death. A native of Tecumseh, Michigan, he joined the Lighthouse Service on May 1, 1908 and secured the assistant keeper’s appointment at North Light. Friends claimed he had a “bright and sunny disposition” and that he “didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
The keeper of the light was George Genery, a long-time veteran of the Service. Appointed to North Light in 1893, he had been the assistant keeper at Menagerie Island, Isle Royale from 1887 until his posting to Grand Island. It was later claimed he had trouble keeping his assistants since none lasted longer than a season. Working with Genery was said to be difficult at best. The keeper was in Munising on June 6 to get supplies.
Baffled by the discovery of Morrison’s body and the knowledge that the beacon had been dark for nearly a week, a delegation from Munising went out to the light. They discovered the supplies Genery had brought back from Munising still piled on the dock. An empty wheel barrow stood nearby and his coat dangled undisturbed on a hook in the boathouse. Morrison’s vest was hanging carefully on the back of a chair, his watch and papers safe in a pocket. Of the three boats normally kept at the station, reports differed whether two or only one was missing. The last official log entry was made on June 5, while the slate entry for the 6th was made in Morrison’s hand. Neither gave a clue to anything being amiss. Other than the untended lamp, all else was normal, without evidence of any unusual occurrence. Local volunteers manned the light until the service send a replacement.
Authorities immediately started a search for the missing keeper, but he had completely dropped out of sight. There were reports that five different men had seen him at various times in Munising between June 9 and 12, and that he was drinking heavily. His wife, living in town, claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts and did not seem overly concerned with his strange disappearance.
There were several theories proffered to explain the case. One said the two men had gone out to lift nets and that Genery had fallen overboard and drowned. Morrison, unfamiliar with a sailboat, then drifted about helplessly until finally perishing from exposure. Friends, however doubted such reasoning. They considered Morrison an expert sailor, and in fact he had previously owned a 32-foot sailboat on the Detroit River.
Another theory is based on their having been paid on the 6th; that they were attacked by one or more unknown assailants on the island, murdered, robbed and the bodies dumped into the sailboats and cast adrift. Morrison’s eventually made shore. Genery’s never did. Lonely to distraction, no better location for such a crime could be imagined. No one else was in the area to witness such a heinous deed. The nearest other occupant on the island was the Cleveland Cliffs game keeper, whose house was seven miles to the south. There was a story that a body was later discovered in the east channel, but it was apparently never identified so whether it was the missing keeper is unknown. Finding “floaters” was not that unusual, so no definite link between it and Genery was possible.
The third theory was that Morrison was murdered by Genery…
The photographer is Jeff Shook of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, an organization that does great work in the preservation of Michigan’s lighthouses.
October 19, 2013
EDIT: WOW!! Check out the video that Tudor did at Forty Mile Point, The Grand Hotel and Fort Mackinac!
Wikipedia’s U.S. Lighthouses entry says that the United States has had approximately a thousand lights as well as light towers, range lights, and pier head lights. With the second longest coastline in the U.S. and a history of vibrant trade across the Great Lakes, it makes sense that Michigan has the most lights of any state with over 150 past and present lights (166 by their count and as many as 247 by some). While the current number varies depending on who you talk to, 115 seems to be the accepted number.
Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light is a fabulous guide to the lighthouses of the Great Lakes and definitely a resource to review before you visit a Michigan lighthouse. The Forty Mile Point Light entry in explains:
While the Presque Isle Peninsula had been lighted since 1840, and the entrance to the Cheboygan River fifty miles to the north had been lighted since 1851, the New Presque Isle Light’s range of visibility of 19 miles and the Cheboygan Light’s visible range of 13 miles left an unlighted 18 mile intervening stretch of coastline along which mariners were forced to navigate blind. In it’s annual report for fiscal 1890, the Board recommended that $25,000 be appropriated for the construction of a new light and fog signal at Forty Mile Point near Hammond’s Bay, at the approximate mid point between the two lights.
(the project languished for nearly 60 years until…)
Eleventh District Engineer Major Milton B. Adams selected and surveyed the site for the new Light. With an offer of $200 for the property accepted by the owner, Adams approved the plans and specifications for the station in February 1896. Contracts for the ironwork for the lantern, gallery, boilers and fog whistles were awarded soon thereafter, and with receipt of the materials at the Detroit depot, were loaded aboard the lighthouse tender AMARANTH and delivered to the site on July 5, 1896. Work at the site began with the construction of a wood-framed building, which would be used by the work crew as a temporary dwelling during construction, and converted into a barn for the keeper’s horses on the completion of the work.
Adams’ plan for the main lighthouse structure was a virtual duplicate of that simultaneously under construction at Big Bay Point on Lake Superior. Consisting of a duplex dwelling with a tower incorporated into the center of one side-wall, the structure stood 35 feet by 57 feet in plan. Erected on a 20″ thick cut limestone foundation, the brick walls featured double walls with an air space between to provide insulation. The integrated tower stood twelve feet in plan, and fifty-two feet in height. The apartments on each side of the dwelling were exact mirrored duplicates and were set-up to afford complete privacy. Each apartment featured its own main entry, cellar, kitchen, parlor, tower entry door and stairway to the bedrooms on the second floor. Indicative of Adam’s thoughtfulness in designing the structure, each of the stairways incorporated a skylight in its ceiling through which the lantern could be observed, thereby allowing both keeper and his assistant to verify the correct operation of the light from within the warmth of their apartment without having to leave the building or climb to the top of the tower itself to see the light. The brick tower was capped by a square gallery with iron safety railing, and a prefabricated octagonal cast iron lantern erected at its center.
Read on for more at Seeing the Light and also check out this shot of the construction crew posing in front of the lighthouse in 1896. Forty Mile Point Light is now a museum, click here to visit their website for more including directions.
Many more Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures.
September 24, 2013
Located just off the mainland coast of Lake Michigan’s east coast, a group of islands known as the Beaver Archipelago form a chain which marked the western edge of a tight passage along the coast. Known as the “Manitou Passage,” vessel masters taking this narrow passage were able to reduce the travel distance between the ports of Lake Michigan’s southern shore and the Straits of Mackinac by sixty miles, as opposed to taking the more circuitous route through open water to the west of the islands. As the most southerly of this chain of islands, South Manitou also featured one of the areas safest natural harbors, and with 5,260-acres of fine timber growth covering the island, it is not surprising that a few enterprising settlers arrived during the mid 1830’s to sell firewood to steamers taking shelter in the harbor when things turned sour out in the lake. By the late 1830’s it was commonplace to find upward of fifty vessels crowded into the harbor seeking refuge and taking-on supplies when things turned sour out in the lake.
Lying a scant few miles west of Sleeping Bear Point, mariners were hard pressed to locate the southern entrance to the busy passage at night or in times of thick weather, and a cry arose throughout the maritime community to light the southern entrance to the passage. Taking up their call on February 19, 1838, Michigan State Representative Isaac Crary entered a motion before the House of Representatives to erect a lighthouse on South Manitou, and fully cognizant of the vital role played by maritime commerce in the area, Congress responded quickly with an appropriation of $5,000 for the station’s construction on July 7 of that same year.
You can read on at Seeing the Light for the troubled saga of this light which saw high keeper turnover and some tragedy in its long tenure before being decommissioned in 1958. There’s also historical photos like this one showing the structure in full operation.
Many more lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures!
September 21, 2013
Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light page for the Medota Channel Light says that in response to increasing industrialization around Lac LaBelle, a cut was created from the Lake Superior into Lac LaBelle to allow access to the big ships that plied the Great Lakes.
As a result, the construction of the Mendota Light was first considered by the US Congress in 1867, when an appropriation of $14,000 for the construction of a light station was approved on March 2, with the terms of the contract called for construction of the structure to begin in 1869, with final completion no later than November 1870.
Later that year, it was realized that declining industrial development in the area would no longer support the planned deepening of the cut into Lac Labelle, and it was deemed that the light would serve no purpose. Decommission was ordered, and instructions to dismantle the structure were issued to the crew of the steamer “Haze,” with all equipment to be returned to USLHS headquarters in St. Joseph for eventual reuse. (The lens and mechanics were later reused in the Marquette Breakwater light.)
Thus, the Mendota light station was decommissioned before it saw real service, and the structure sat idle and blinded for the following twenty two years.
In the following years, Great Lakes shipping increased dramatically, and many ships rounding the Keweenaw began using Bete Grise Bay as a shelter during rough seas. In 1892 it was determined that a reactivation of the Mendota light, along with relocation closer to the bay would make bay entry a far safer proposition for such ships seeking shelter. Authorization for reactivation was issued on February 15, 1893, and $7,500 was appropriated to cover the expenses.
Read on for more about this light.
August 8, 2013
The Detroit Free Press recently had a fun article by Ziati Meyer titled Michigan Lighthouse Trivia that related:
LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS: The deaths of 48 people in one year prompted the building of the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The stretch of water between Big Sable Point and Ludington saw 12 shipwrecks in 1855, so Congress was asked to send money to help. The result — after a Civil War delay — was a $35,000 lighthouse to help ships navigate that area of Lake Michigan
Read on for more fun facts and definitely check out Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light and our Michigan in Pictures archive for more info and photos of this iconic light north of Ludington.
More great aerial photos on Michigan in Pictures.
July 13, 2013
Today’s post is from the “What Are the Odds?” category. Some weeks I will sit down on Sunday evening and write a few posts. I wrote this one last Sunday and then on Tuesday, the State Historic Preservation Office announced 2013 recipients of Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program. Three lighthouses will receive dollars for preservation efforts: the Manistee North Pier Light, the St. Clair South Channel Range Lights (already profiled on Michigan in Pictures) and the DeTour Reef Lighthouse!
Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light tells of the history of the DeTour Reef Lighthouse. He begins:
As freighters plying the St. Marys River grew in length and depth, a reef lying 24 feet below the surface off the entrance to the river between Detour Point and Drummond Island became a menace to safe passage between the lake and river. Without funding to erect a lighthouse, an acetylene buoy was placed to mark the reef on September 29, 1897 as a temporary measure.
As part of a major project to improve aids to navigation in the Straits of Mackinac at the end of the 1920’s, the Lighthouse Bureau had proven its ability in the efficient construction of offshore crib-based lights at Martin Reef in 1927, and Poe Reef 1929. With success already in its back pocket, after receiving an appropriation for the construction of a first-class light station on Detour Reef, the Bureau was immediately able to focus its attention on construction of the new station.
The first order of business was the establishment of a land-based camp as close as possible to the reef. Here, the crib which would form the submarine foundation for the structure could be built, and housing could be obtained for the construction crew. By the twin virtues of having deep water close to its shore and its proximity to the construction site, Detour Village was selected as the best location for the base of operations.
You can read on at Seeing the Light for details and photos of the fascinating construction process of this “crib lighthouse” that culminated with the official lighting of the new tower on the night of November 10, 1931. In 1974 the light was automated and in 1997 the lighthouse was declared excess property by the U.S. Coast Guard, but community members were able to come together to for the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society (Facebook). This successful partnership renovated the lighthouse and now offers YOU the chance to be a volunteer keeper and stay at the lighthouse!
Many more Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures.
April 26, 2013
Terry Pepper has (as usual) a very detailed entry for Poe Reef Lighthouse on his Seeing the Light website. This crib style lighthouse is located off Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron. The reef is very close to the surface and posed a significant threat to navigation until the decision was made in the 1890s to anchor a lightship there. This served until Lighthouse Service decided to build a permanent station on Poe Reef in 1927:
The station building at Poe Reef was to be an exact duplicate of that which the crew had previously completed at Martins Reef. The main twenty-five foot square structure consisted of a steel skeletal framework to which an exterior sheathing of riveted steel plates was applied. Thirty-eight feet tall, it contained three levels, or “decks”, as the crews assigned to the station knew them. The two upper decks were set up as living quarters, while the main lower deck served as housing for the machinery required for powering the lights, heating system and foghorn.
Centered atop the main structure stood sixteen-foot square, ten-foot high watch room of similar construction, with a single observation window on each side. Finally, a decagonal cast iron lantern room was installed on the roof of the watch room, and outfitted with a Third Order Fresnel lens. The combination of pier and tower provided the Fresnel with a seventy-one foot focal plane, and a visibility range of almost twenty nautical miles in clear conditions. Work was completed at the station and the light exhibited for the first time on the evening of August 15, 1929.
At some point in time, in order to eliminate the possibility of the Poe Reef Light being mistaken for the identical all white structure at Martin Reef, the main deck and watch room of the Poe structure were given a contrasting coat of black paint.
Terry has some cool shots of this light as well including this wide shot with cormorants.
More Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures.