Fourteen-Mile Point Light Station Seeing The Light

Fourteen miles east of Ontonagon, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

By the 1880's, both the lumber and copper industries were experiencing phenomenal growth along the shores of Lake Superior. To support the increase in maritime traffic servicing this boom, the Lighthouse Board turned its attention to ensuring that there was a continuous string of navigational aids in place along the southern shore of the lake.

While a lighthouse had been established on the pier at Ontonagon in 1866, and the Upper Entrance to the Portage Lake ship Canal had been served with a light since 1874, the forty two miles of uninhabited coast between the two stations remained as yet unmarked.

Searching for an appropriate location for the new coast light, the Board determined that the establishment of a station in the area of Fourteen-Mile Point, would not only create the desired unbroken line of Light visibility, but would also serve to mark the important turning point for Ontonagon-bound traffic. The Board petitioned Congress for an appropriation for construction of the station, and received a favorable response on March 3, 1893 when $20,000 was appropriated for the project.

The Board responded quickly to the appropriation, obtaining title to fifty acres of land on Fourteen-Mile Point from the State of Michigan on July 21 of that same year.

Click to view enlarged imageThat fall, a small work crew arrived at the point and began construction of a temporary work shelter for the construction crew, which was scheduled to arrive the following spring. On their departure, they left a single workman who had been tasked with clearing an opening in the dense forest over the winter months. While we do not know the name of the solitary workman, he was evidently an extremely industrious and self-motivated individual, since on the arrival of the lighthouse tender AMARANTH on May 10th that spring, it was found that he had single-handedly cleared almost ten acres of trees and brush.

The AMARANTH anchored offshore, and over the next four days the 30-man construction crew unloaded almost 450 tons of construction materials, which the vessel had transported from the Detroit lighthouse depot.

Work began on May 14th, and progressed rapidly under the watchful supervision of Major M. B. Adams, the Eleventh District's Chief Engineer, and by summer's end, one of the largest and most magnificent coastal lights on all the Great Lakes took shape on Fourteen Mile Point.

Click to view enlarged imageThe main two-story lighthouse was constructed in duplex style to provide quarters for both the Head keeper and his First Assistant. The imposing structure was constructed with double walls with an air space in between for both strength and insulation. The integral square tower was located centrally in the building's front fašade, and stood fifty-five feet in height, capped by a circular watchroom with round portholes through which the keepers could keep a watchful eye on passing vessels and weather conditions.

In turn, a decagonal cast iron lantern was hoisted to the walkway on top of the watchroom. Equipped with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens, the clear lens featured red flash panels, and was designed to rotate through a clockwork mechanism, to display a fixed white light with a flash if red every twenty seconds. Each light station was provided with a unique flash pattern, or signature, designed to let mariners quickly determine the identity of each station along their passage.

Click to view enlarged imageClose to the shore, approximately a hundred feet west of the main structure, a brick fog-signal building took shape. Equipped with dual 10-inch fog whistles, it was designed to emit an ear-shattering scream to be heard miles across the lake, providing a bearing to blinded vessels during thick weather. The two thirsty Fitzgibbons steam engines powering these whistles received an ample supply of water by way of a windmill-powered pump, obtaining its water supply from beneath a protective crib constructed just offshore.

Click to view enlarged imageWork turned to the construction of a wood-framed Second Assistant Keepers dwelling, brick oil storage shed, wooden barn and boathouse. With the construction work completed at the station, the station's head keeper Thomas Doody exhibited the light for the first in October 15, 1894.

Keepers at Fourteen-Mile Point faithfully continued their daily vigil every year for the following forty-six years until the station was automated through the installation of an acetylene gas lighting system in 1940. At this time, the buildings were gutted of any valuable equipment and furniture, and the station was boarded-up. Responsibility for the acetylene system's maintenance was transferred to the keepers of the Ontonagon Light, who were required to make monthly trips via trail or water to inspect the light's condition, and make any necessary repairs.

Click to view enlarged imageThe station continued to exhibit its light until 1945, when it was decided that combination of the increased use of radio beacons and changes in shipping patterns had rendered the station obsolete. The acetylene light was exhibited from the tower for the last time on the night of April 3. With the arrival of a Coast Guard crew on the beach the following day, the magnificent Fresnel lens and acetylene illuminating apparatus were removed from the tower, and crated for storage. With the departure of the crew, Fourteen-Mile Point was abandoned to weather the elements, and the property was transferred to the Department of the Interior.

Click to view enlarged imageAt some time thereafter, the station property was sold into private ownership. It would appear that the owners did not realize the historical value of their purchase, since they did nothing to maintain or protect the buildings, and their condition deteriorated rapidly.

While it might appear that the remote location might serve to deter vandalism, the station suffered the ultimate insult on July 30 1984, when unknown individuals torched the main structure, destroying everything combustible. A passing boater reported the fire, but the Coast Guard could not make the 42-mile trip in time to save the structure.

Click to view enlarged imageWith the roof and floors significantly damaged, and the structural integrity compromised, it appeared likely that the brick walls would begin began to crumble, and the once mighty structure was destined to become one with the ground.

During the early 90's, Don Hermanson of Keweenaw Video Productions, along with John and Susan Hatch went together to purchase the lighthouse property. Don has information about their accomplishments since taking over the station on his Keweenaw Video Productions Website.

We hope that they have the necessary time and resources to at least stabilize the structure, if not to restore it to its prior original glory. We wish them the best of luck in their endeavor.

Keepers of this Light

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

Finding this Light

Fourteen Mile Point Light Station is located on private property some 14 miles east of Ontonagon. The old trail the keepers used has long since overgrown and has become impenetrable. While views of the station can be had from a boat, and the station is accessible to snowmobiles, the station is in tenuous condition and is privately owned. Thus, we ask that anyone attempting to photograph the station honor the privacy of the owners and take only pictures and leave only footprints..

Reference Sources

Lighthouse Board Annual Reports, 1892, 1893 & 1894.
Scott's New Coast Pilot
, 1909.
Photograph courtesy of Michigan State Archives.
Photographs courtesy of Ontonagon Historical Society.
Photographs courtesy of the Edna Dahl Strang collection.
Northern Lights, Charles K. Hyde, 1995.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

This page last modified 09/26/2004

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