Sand Point Light Seeing The Light

Baraga, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

At the dawn of the 1870's, the small town of L'Anse found itself in the thick of the iron boom. With plans in place to complete the construction of the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad tracks into town in 1872, the naturally protected harbor at L'Anse was considered to be primary competition for Marquette and Escanaba ore shipments. With an infusion of East Coast investment dollars, ore docks and wharves quickly sprang up along the waterfront and the town's population skyrocketed as people moved into the area to take advantage of the coming boom.

Expecting a dramatic rise in maritime traffic, the city fathers began applying every possible pressure to the Federal Government for the construction of a lighthouse to guide mariners into the harbor. Agreeing with the areas potential, the Lighthouse Board reported in 1871 that on completion of the railroad "the place will at once become an important point for the shipment of iron ore. A good harbor is found at the head of the bay, and it should be lighted. To establish such a Light is needed will require an appropriation of $12,000, which amount is submitted, with estimate." Without an appropriation that year, the Board reiterated the recommendation in its annual report for 1872, and Congress responded with an appropriation of $10,000 for establishing the light at L'Anse on March 3, 1873. By July, under the direction of District Engineer Major Godfrey Weitzel, a site had been selected to the north of L'Anse, and title negotiations were underway, after which Weitzel expected that "no unnecessary delay will take place in erecting the requisite structures and exhibiting the light."

And then financial Hell broke loose.

In September 1873, New York financier Jay Cooke declared bankruptcy. Among other interests, Cooke had served as primary financier of the North's cause in the Civil War and was the principal backer of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The company's collapse rippled throughout the country, with almost all of the nation's railroads declaring bankruptcy. This Financial Panic of 1873, had disastrous impact on the nation's business, ore shipments from Lake Superior virtually dried-up, and the docks at L'Anse sat empty.

With expectations high that boom days would return, the Lighthouse Board continued to pursue the erection of a Light at L'Anse. However, in 1875 after two years of unsuccessful title negotiation, the Board asked Congress for permission to re-word the appropriation in 1875 to allow construction of the light anywhere in the vicinity that it determined would serve the harbor.

Click to view enlarged imageCongress approved the verbal modification, and a new a new site with a willing owner was selected across the bay from L'Anse at Sand Point, and the title was filed since with the US District Attorney in 1876. Since Weitzel was already working on a plan for a new light at Port Austin, it was decided to use this same plan at Sand Point. Specifying a 1 story brick dwelling with attached square tower, Weitzel's plan was evidently successful, as two other stations would subsequently be built to the same plan at Sherwood Point in 1883 and at Little Traverse in 1884.

While forest fires were frequent throughout the thickly forested Upper Peninsula, 1876 was the year of a particularly disastrous fire which swept through L'Anse, burning everything in its path, including the wooden docks at the waterfront.

Click to view enlarged imageThe lighthouse tender WARRINGTON delivered a work crew and materials at Sand Point in August 1877, and work began and continued until winter's icy grip forced an end to the construction. Work resumed on the opening of navigation the following spring, and was well underway when Keeper John Crebassa reported for duty as the station's first keeper on July 19, 1878, transferring-in from the Portage River Light at Jacobsville, where he had served as that station's keeper for the past 13 years. Construction was close to completion at the beginning of August, when the District Lampist arrived at Sand Point, and carefully installed the new fixed red Fifth Order Fresnel lens in August. While only a small lens, it had been calculated that the light's location 38 feet above the lake surface would afford it with a visible range of 9 miles, which was deemed sufficient to serve to guide mariners into the bay and to the harbor beyond. Keeper Crebassa climbed the tower stairs to exhibit the new light for the first time on the night of August 10, 1878.

With the ore dock burned, and the country only now beginning to claw its way from the grips of the Depression resulting from the Panic of '78, the huge number of ore boats never materialized. However, with a number of saw mills around the bay, the Sand Point Light continued to serve as a guide a large number of lumber hookers entering the bay to load with timber to for the growing cities on the southern lakes.

Click to view enlarged imageWith the exception of the installation of 86 feet of new sidewalk in 1894, no major repair work was undertaken at the station for the following decade, until 1897, when it was identified that rising lake levels had eroded the sandy shoreline in front of the station to a point that drastic measures needed to be taken in order to prevent the tower from being undermined. A work crew was delivered at the station in 1898, and set about laying a grid of large square hemlock timbers to the rear of the dwelling. The entire brick lighthouse was then jacked up onto these timbers, and with the timbers liberally coated with grease, the building was pushed and pulled 200 feet inshore from the lake onto a new foundation. With the move complete, additional hemlock timbers were installed between the station and the shore and filled with packed sand to help preclude any further erosion.

Click to view enlarged imageLikely as a result of ailing health, Keeper Crebassa resigned from lighthouse service on March 1, 1908 after 30 years at Sand Point. With no immediate replacement available, his wife Anne took over as Acting Keeper for three months until Thomas Thompson transferred in from the Eagle Harbor Ranges on May 18. Thompson in turn resigned in 1911, and was succeeded by his brother Richard on May 22, after serving seven years as Second Assistant at Spectacle Reef.

With advances in acetylene lighting technology, and a continuing slide in maritime traffic in and out of L'Anse, the decision was made to automate the Sand Point Light in 1922. Thus, a small brick acetylene tank house was erected 37 yards to the east of the tower, and topped with a 35 foot tall red iron mast. A 300 mm lantern was erected atop this mast, and equipped with a sun valve, the light was automatically illuminated with the cool of evening and extinguished with the warmth of morning sun. The new light was placed into operation on September 25, 1922, and Richard Thompson accepted a transfer to Duluth, where he took over as First Assistant, in which position he continued to serve until he retired from lighthouse service on April 20, 1933.

Click to view enlarged imageAt some time thereafter, the lighthouse passed into private ownership, and has most recently become the property of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. At some point along the way, a hideous porch was added along the entire Southern exposure, hiding the simple beauty of the original structure.

From time to time there have been heartening rumors that there plans are underway to restore the building to its original appearance, and open it up to the public. However as of this writing, there has been no move in this direction.

Keepers of this Light

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

Seeing this Light

 Sand Point Light sits alone on the western shore of Keweenaw Bay in the middle of a large open area ringed with pine trees, and is afforded a beautiful view of the bay to the east. Unfortunately, Sand Point has been subjected to a similar fate as the Eagle River light which we had visited a couple of days earlier.

There are still a number of outbuildings standing, most noticeably a wonderful two-seat outhouse. Unfortunately, we could find no-one working on the day of our visit, and thus were unable to get a good look at the building's interior, which from the glimpses that we were able to catch through the windows, appeared to be in excellent condition.

Finding this Light

Heading North on US41 out of Baraga, turn right on the road just past the Department of Natural Resources District Headquarters building. Look for a sign stating "Ojibway Campgrounds." Stay on the road until a gravel road can be seen that turns off to the right. Take the right turn and continue until you reach a fork in the road. Take the left fork and continue to the lighthouse.

Reference Sources

Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994.
Personal visit on 09/09/1999
Photographs from author's personal collection.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of
Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

This page last modified 11/13/2004

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