Lansing Shoal Light Seeing The Light

Lake Michigan East Straits Passage



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Historical Information

Lansing Shoals are located approximately 4 ˝ miles northeast of Squaw Island, at the northern end of a narrow passage through which vessels are forced to navigate on their trip between the Straits and the northern harbors of Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Consisting of a number of detached rocky strewn reefs with depths of less than 17 feet, the reef long represented a significant threat to any vessel master unfamiliar with the intricacies of the passage.

As traffic through the Straits burgeoned in the late 1890’s with increasing ore shipments from Escanaba, mariners began lobbying the Lighthouse Board to improve the lighting of the shoals. While the construction of manned light stations in such locations was preferred, the high costs associated with offshore construction made the anchoring of lightships over such obstructions a significantly more expeditious and cost effective solution. Without funding for a new vessel, the Board was forced to review its existing inventory to identify if arrangements could be made to allow the relocation of an existing vessel to mark Lansing Shoals.

Click to view enlarged imageLightship LV55 had been serving at Simmons Reef since October 24, 1891, and with a shift of traffic patterns to the south of White Shoal, Simmons Reef had become less of a threat to mariners. Thus, the decision was made to replace the LV55 with an acetylene gas buoy in 1899, thereby freeing-up the lightship to be reassigned to duty on Lansing Shoal. However, since the Simmons Reef lightship had been established by an Act of Congress, the Board needed yet another Act to allow relocation of the vessel, and thus the Board requested permission to make the change in its annual report for 1899. A joint resolution of Congress approving the relocation was made on May 3, 1900, and with the establishment of the Simmons Reef Gas Buoy on July 19, 1900, LV55 was moved and anchored on Lansing Shoals.

LV55 was one of three identical light vessels authorized in a $60,000 appropriation on March 2, 1899. Built at the Blythe Craig Shipbuilding Co at Toledo, Ohio, the three 103-foot oak-planked vessels were equipped with a single screw driven by a small single cylinder steam engine. These engines were designed to provide the vessels with sufficient power to allow them to get on and off station under their own power. Thereby eliminating the costs associated with having a lighthouse tender moving them on and off station at the beginning and end of the navigation season. Work on the vessels was completed on September 15, 1891, and on delivery at the Detroit lighthouse depot they were officially designated with hull numbers LV55, LV56 and LV57. The three vessels departed the Lighthouse Depot under their own steam on October 19, and reaching Port Huron that same evening, were met by the lighthouse tender DAHLIA, which towed them north through Lake Huron and placed all three vessels on their stations on October 24th, 1891.

Determined to affect a more permanent solution, the Board requested an appropriation of $250,000 to construct a permanent light station on Lansing Shoals in its annual report for 1908. However, with a tight economy and numerous other projects underway, Congress repetitively turned a deaf ear to the request. Thus, the venerable LV55 continued her dedicated service over Lansing Shoals for the following twelve years, until at her winter lay-up in Cheboygan in 1920 her hull was found to be rotting beyond repair and she was declared "unseaworthy," and removed from service. Thus, in 1920, the search was on for a replacement vessel to serve at Lansing Shoal.

Click to view enlarged imageLV98 was built at the Racine-Truscott-Shell Lake Boat Company in Muskegon in 1914. Built of steel in the "Whaleback style", her overall length was 101', and she drew an impressive 23' 6". Initially assigned to duty off Buffalo Harbor on June 12, 1915, she served at that anchorage until she was transferred for relief service in Lake Michigan in 1918. Deciding that assignment to Lansing Shoal was of greater importance than continued service as a relief vessel, LV98 was permanently reassigned to Lansing Shoal, taking up her new anchorage on September 29, 1920.

Since the construction of the first 350-foot long lock at the Soo in 1855, the size of the locks had served as the limiting factor for the length of commercial vessels able to move through them in and out of Lake Superior. Since larger vessels allowed larger loads, while still allowing for the same number of trips during the navigation season, ship owners were constantly clamoring for the construction of larger locks at the Soo, and a thirty year cycle of lock replacement began. With the opening of the twin 850-foot long Davis and Sabin locks in 1919, vessels quickly grew to previously unimagined dimensions, and the Army Corps of Engineers was pressed to ensure that all navigation channels throughout the lakes were improved to handle longer and deeper draft vessels.

The increased size and weight of these larger vessels allowed them to break through thicker ice, and thus they were able to extend both ends of the navigation season. However, largely as a result of her diminutive size, LV98 was forced to wait for almost complete ice-out in the spring before making her way out of winter quarters, and was likewise forced to leave her station before the close of the navigation season in order to avoid becoming trapped in the thickening ice. Thus, many vessels found themselves navigating the area around Lansing Shoals without the benefit of a light to guide the way, and the need for a permanent light station on Lansing Shoal again became of critical necessity.

After receiving Congressional approval for the new station in 1926, a site for the new Light was selected, and work on the new light began the following year with the preparation of the lake bed with four feet of stone to serve as a level foundation. Onto this foundation, four rectangular concrete caissons, each 20 feet by 54 feet by 21 feet in height were lowered to the bottom. The four caissons were placed with a 34-foot square open space at their center, and connected at the bottom with ˝-inch rods, and the central space filled with a two-foot thick slab of Portland cement. The self-unloader T W ROBINSON then arrived at the site and filled the caissons and central space with stone.

Click to view enlarged imageThe caissons were then capped with seven-foot thick slab of steel reinforced concrete. Forms were then installed around the outer edge of this slab, and 30-inch thick concrete walls poured, creating a 69-foot square basement within the crib. Sub forms within the exterior walls created openings for doors six feet above the water level on the north and south sides, and 27 24" diameter porthole-style windows. Atop the walls, a 12-inch thick slab of steel reinforced concrete was poured, with central support provided by steel columns bolted to the basement floor. This second slab sat 20 feet above lake level, and served as both the main deck of the structure and as the ceiling for the basement below. This basement was divided into two sections on opposite sides of the crib, with one side serving as a machinery room and the other as sleeping quarters for the crew.

Click to view enlarged imageThe machinery room housed a pair of diesel-powered electric generators which were to supply power to the main light, radiobeacon and general lighting throughout the structure. A small gasoline engine powered generator served as a backup to the main generators in the case of a failure with the main units. A pair of diesel-powered compressors provided compressed air for the diaphone fog signal, two air-powered derricks mounted on the northeast and northwest corners of the main deck, and also provided pressure to the dwelling’s plumbing systems. A coal storage bunker provided fuel for a hot water heating system, connected to radiators throughout the dwelling. To both reduce noise and fumes in the four bedrooms on the opposite side of the crib, the two areas were separated by a ventilated hallway and the floor of the four bedrooms stood sixteen inches above those in the equipment area.

Click to view enlarged imageCentered on the main deck above the basement, structural steel framework was erected and sheathed with reinforced concrete walls standing 37 feet square, with walls 12’ 8" high. As was the case with the basement below, this main structure served double duty, housing a large boat storage room, kitchen, dining room and living rooms for the crew. Constructed in a similar manner to the main structure, the tower rose three stories above the center of the flat roof of the main structure, and stood 13-feet square at the base, with three stepped sections tapering to 11 feet square below the gallery. A room immediately below the lantern housed a Type F diaphone, with its resonator protruding through the wall for maximum sound dispersion. Atop the tower, a circular cast iron lantern was installed with helical astragals, and outfitted with an occulting white Third Order Fresnel lens illuminated by a 500-watt incandescent electric lamp. With a focal plane of 69 feet, the lens was visible for a distance of 16 miles in clear weather.

While there was still interior finish work remaining, and the radiobeacon had yet to be installed, the new light was exhibited for the first time on the night of October 6, 1928, and lightship LV98 was removed from her anchorage and reassigned to Twelfth District relief duty.

Click to view enlarged imageWith completion of the interior trim work and the installation of the 200-watt radiobeacon the following spring, work at Lansing Shoal was completed at a total cost of $262,000. The reinforced concrete construction of the station made for an extremely strong structure, which was put to the test during the great Armistice Day Storm of November 11, 1940. With fierce northwestern gales blowing across the lake, two freighters and a grain carrier were lost, and 70 storm-related deaths recorded between Ludington and South Haven alone. During this storm, winds of 126 miles per hour were recorded at Lansing Shoal, and the station was coated with seven inches of ice, and most of the porthole windows were blown out, causing the keepers to ride out the storm in an inner room within the crib.

Click to view enlarged imageThe Lansing Shoals Light was one of the last to be built on the Great Lakes, and thus was one of the shortest lived. With advances in RADAR and LORAN-C, through the sixties and seventies, such manned stations had outlived their usefulness. The Coast Guard cutter Buckthorn arrived at Lansing Shoal in the summer of 1976, and disassembled the Third Order Fresnel, replacing the magnificent glass jewel with a diminutive solar-powered 190 mm acrylic optic. After removing anything of value and securing the station, the final crew was removed from the Light and carried back to Station Charlevoix. At some point thereafter, all windows in the station were sealed with brick and mortar, and the walls sprayed with a coat of gunite , in order to reduce maintenance costs and to help prevent vandalism.

In 1995, the 1,000-foot freighter INDIANA HARBOR passed too close to the station, smashing into the crib, damaging some of the concrete of the crib and smashing the metal corner protection on the station deck. Amazingly, neither the light nor the vessel sustained major damage.

While no crews have tended the light in almost 30 years, Lansing Shoal still beams her flashing white light fifteen miles across Lake Michigan, warning mariners of the dangers lurking below the water. The old Third Order Fresnel lens from the lighthouse was subsequently placed on display at the Lansing State Museum, in Lansing.

Keepers of this Light

Click Here to see a complete listing of all Lansing Shoal Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

We have yet to visit this light. We plan to visit in 2004, and will report on our observations at that time. Thanks to Bernie and Everett for honoring us with their photographs.

Finding this Light

This is an offshore light, and we are not currently aware of any tours or charter boats that offer services to the light. Thus, you will require your own seaworthy vessel to make the trip.

Reference Sources

Annual reports of the Lighthouse Board, various, 1891 - 1909
Annual reports of the Lake Carriers Association, various, 1901 - 1911
Great Lakes Light Lists, various, 1901 - 1997
Lightships and Lightship Stations of the United States Government
, Willard Flint, 1989
Holland's extremes of the century, Jim Pruitt. Holland Sentinel, 01/01/00
Northern Lights, Charles K. Hyde, 1995.
email from Bernard Hellstrom concerning 1995 collision, 01/02/00
The Long Ships Passing, Walter Havighurst, 1943
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

This page last modified 06/20/2004

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