|Michigan Island New Light||Seeing The Light|
In 1906 the Lighthouse Board recommended that Congress appropriate the sum of $85,000 for the construction of a light and fog signal to mark Gull Island, to the north of Michigan Island. Unfamiliar with the practicalities of the situation, Congress referred the matter to the Department of Commerce for additional investigation. In its response, of February 1, 1907, the Department of Commerce reported favorably on the proposal, noting in part that "Several vessels have run aground in this vicinity during storms. If there had been a light and fog-signal there, the wrecks might have been prevented."
Wary of such a large appropriation, on May 14, 1908 Congress instead allocated $2,000 to fund a complete survey of the area, and Eleventh Lighthouse District Engineer Major Charles Keller dispatched a survey crew, which completed its' work that September. Upon evaluation of the crew's findings, Keller modified his plan, recommending in his annual report for 1909 that the easterly end of Michigan Island would in fact represent a preferable site for an improved light and fog signal, and requested that the amount of the appropriation be increased to $100,000 to cover the associated costs.
On June 17, 1910, Congress passed an act approving the construction of the new station on Michigan Island. However with the unsettled atmosphere surrounding that year's abolishment of the Lighthouse Board and the transfer of responsibility for the nation's aids to the newly formed Bureau of Lighthouses under George R Putnam, no expenditure was approved. However, Putnam evidently concurred with the need for the new station, and reiterated the plea for the appropriation in his annual reports for each of the following eight years.
In 1918, plans were underway for the installation of a pole light at Schooner Ledge Rear Range Light on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. With the erection of the new automated light, the old 112-foot cast iron skeletal tower would no longer serve any purpose. Determining that the cast iron tower was in excellent condition, the Bureau of Lighthouses proposed that the old tower be disassembled and shipped to the Eleventh District for re-erection on Michigan island, thereby eliminating a large portion of the cost associated with building the new coast light there. The Michigan Island plan was thus modified to include a radio beacon instead of the more expensive diaphone fog signal and the construction of an unmanned acetylene light on Gull Island, thus reducing the total estimated costs for construction to $85,000.
Congress finally came through with the appropriation in 1928, and work began that same year on both Michigan and Gull Islands.
The old cast iron tower from Schooner Ledge, which had been shipped to the Eleventh District and stored since 1919, was shipped to Michigan Island along with the work crew required to bring the station to completion. Work began with the pouring of a concrete foundation for the tower, and the construction of a brick building to house the diesel engines and generators, which would power the light, radiobeacon and station quarters. The cast iron tower was erected on the prepared foundation, and the Third-and-a-half Order Fresnel was disassembled, removed from the old tower, and carefully relocated to its new home in the lantern atop the new tower. Equipped with a 24,000 candlepower electric light, the combination of the significantly increased intensity and the 170-foot focal plane afforded by the tower's location atop the cliff. Increased the light's range of visibility to a remarkable 22 miles.
Electrification was a double-edged sword. Positive for the keepers in that the electric light required little maintenance, but negative in that many assistant keepers were released from service, their efforts no longer needed. Such was the situation in 1939, when Michigan Island, Big Bay Point and Crisp Point Lights all became a one-man stations, and keeper Robert Westveld was left alone to tend the station.
A mere five years later in 1943, Westveld himself left the station when the light was fully automated, it's infrequent maintenance to be performed by a Coast Guard crew based on Devils Island. In order to help preserve the historic object, the Third-and-a-half Order lens was removed from the Michigan Island lantern in 1972, and replaced with a DCB-224 aerobeacon, which was subsequently replaced by the present 300 mm acrylic optic.
After restoration and
cleaning, the old Fresnel lens was placed on display in the Apostle
Islands National Lakeshore visitor center in Bayfield, where it is
proudly displayed to this day, a reminder of the days when brave and
hard-working men toiled untold hours keeping the lens in optimal
operating condition in order to guide mariners on their journey.
P.O. Box 691 - City
For information on the Keeper
Of The Light Celebration, contact: