DeTour Reef Light Seeing The Light

Off DeTour Village, Michigan Home Back

Detour Reef 02
Detour Reef 01 Detour Reef 03
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Historical Information

Detour Reef map[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 1920ís, 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.

Detour Reef 04 Terry PepperThe 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.

With the base site selected, work began simultaneously at Detour Village and on the reef itself. 

At the village, the massive 60-foot square, 20-foot high timber crib was constructed of 12" square timbers on a skid-way down which it would eventually slide into the water. On the reef, hard-hat divers worked with a scow equipped with a crane system to clear and level an area in 24 feet of water where the crib would eventually be placed. With the site on the reef prepared, the crib was pulled down the greased skid-ways into the water, and the lighthouse tenders MARIGOLD and ASPEN attached lines and carefully guided the huge structure away from shore and out to the reef.

Detour Reef 05 Terry PepperArriving at the reef, the crib was carefully centered on the cleared and leveled area, and ballast pockets built into the crib were filled with crushed limestone delivered by freighters and transferred into the crib with the assistance of the scow's conveyor. Eventually overcoming its natural buoyancy, the crib sank on the prepared bottom in its prepared location. The entire center section of the crib was then filled with crushed stone, and the outer walls filled with cement using the Tremie method in order to provide support to the exterior timbers, which as a result of their submerged condition would remain free of rot virtually for eternity.

Detour Reef 06 Terry PepperWooden forms were then erected atop the crib, and the work of filling the forms with successive pours of concrete from a mixer aboard the scow began. As the pour continued, a large central open area and smaller peripheral storage areas were cast into the concrete. With the pouring of the curved wave apron, work on the crib was complete and the upper surface of the pier was carefully smoothed to create a level foundation for the lighthouse structure itself, which was to be erected at the exact center of the pier. By the end of the 193o season, work on the pier was virtually complete and a temporary light was placed atop the pier deck, allowing the removal of the gas buoy.

Detour Reef 07 Terry PepperConstruction of the building used the state of the art methods proven in skyscraper construction, consisting of a central skeletal support structure of I-beams faced with an exterior of iron and steel, lined with an insulating layer of masonry. Electrical power for the lighthouse was provided via a submarine cable from Detour Point. The large open area in the center of the concrete pier extended up into the first level of the structure, and served to house the compressors which provided air for the stationís F2T diaphone, stand-by generators and the stationís hot water heating plant.

In order to reduce construction cost, the lantern, stair cylinder, spiral stairs and Third-and-a-half Order Fresnel lens from the old 1861 Detour Point light were disassembled, cleaned and shipped to the new light and reassembled atop its square central tower.  Work was finally completed in the late fall of 1931, with the light officially exhibited from the new tower on the night of November 10, 1931.

Detour Reef 09 Terry PepperIn 1998, a group of community leaders from DeTour Village and Drummond Island met to form the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society (DRLPS), a non-profit volunteer 501(c)(3) organization and began planning the restoration of the lighthouse. After obtaining a series of grants to fund the restoration, the group enlisted the services of UP Engineers and Architects and contractor Mihm Enterprises to undertake the full restoration of the light station over 2003 and 2004.

The restoration of the Detour Reef Light stands as an amazing example of the incredible success which can be obtained by a local grass-roots group of motivated preservationists, with the group receiving numerous awards and public acclaim for their wonderful efforts over the ensuing years. 

Keepers of this Light

Click here to see a complete listing of all DeTour Reef Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing This Light

The Detour Reef light is located far enough out in Lake Huron that only distant views can be obtained from shore. The Detour Reef Light Preservation Society offers both live-in volunteer keeper opportunities and boat trips out for full tours of the light station on weekends throughout the summer season. For further information click here to visit the Society's website, email them at or write them at:

DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society
PO Box 307
Drummond Island, MI 49726

This page last modified 09-02-2012

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