Aerial b&w

Link to Home page
Link to News page
History page (active)
Link to Facts & Maps page
Link to Downloads page
Link to Gallery page
Link to Links page
Link to Contributions page
Link to About Us page
Link to Guestbook page


History & Mystery

 History of the Light Station

  1867: $18,000 are granted by Congress for the construction of the lighthouse on South Fox Island. Nov. 1, 1867, the light, equipped with a flashing red 4th order Fresnel lens, is lit by first lighthouse keeper, Henry J. Roe. The keeper's salary is $150.00 per quarter.
The height of the tower from the base to the focal plane of the lantern is 39 feet. The revolving red light is 68 feet above lake level.

  1880: To keep drifting sand and snow out, Keeper Willis Warner builds a board fence around the light station, 320 ft long and 5 ft high.

  1890: New landing docks are built, consisting of sunk cribs. The old boat house is moved closer to the docks.

  1892: Keeper Louis Bourisseau builds about 600 running feet of wooden walkways, 2 ft wide, connecting the buildings.

  1895: After five years of delaying the project, a fog signal building, consisting of wooden frames covered with planks and corrugated iron outside and smooth sheet iron inside, is erected and a 10 inch steam whistle fog signal is put in operation. A brick oil house is built with a capacity of 360 gallons of kerosene for the new lantern that replaces the old lard oil lantern.

  1897: A new boat house is built.

  1898: A well for supplying the fog signal is dug and a pump house is built over it. New wooden walkways were built to connect the new boat house and the well house to the existing walkways. A new dock including a derrick are built next to the new boat house. A wood frame assistant keepers dwelling (five rooms for two keepers) is built southeast of the lighthouse.
This must have been a foggy year: According to the annual report of the Lighthouse Board, the fog signal was in operation some 581 hours (in normal years 250 - 350 hours) and consumed about 42 cords of wood and 43 tons of coal.

  1900: A steam launch replaces the open sailing skiff that had served as the station's official craft.

  1905: A second well is sunk east-northeast of the one dug in 1898.

  1906: A post office is built at the Plank farm on the southeastern side of South Fox.

  1907: The District Inspector's survey of the light station states that the light is fixed red, varied by red flash every two minutes.

  1910: The wooden assistant keepers dwelling is replaced with a red brick building. Its design is very similar to the one of the keepers dwelling on North Manitou Island. It has indoor plumbing, quite a luxury in those days. Roughly the same time the yellow bricks of the tower are painted white. (Some sources say they were coated with white bricks as an additional protection from the elements.)

  1911: The island's post office is closed. Mail is delivered only once or twice a month.

  1915: Deer are introduced on the island.

  1916: The intensity of the light is increased.

  1920s: Farming on the island is abandoned.

  1929: The light is changed from oil vapor to electricity, provided by generators. The steam fog signal is replaced with an air diaphone signal, in certain sources called a "typhon signal."

  1933: The light tower on Sapelo Island, Georgia, a square pyramidal cast iron skeletal tower of the 'Sanibel' class, erected in 1905, is disassembled and the components are shipped to South Fox Island.

  1934: Workers from Northport reassemble the skeletal tower from Sapelo Island on the southern tip of South Fox Island, southwest of the old lighthouse, closer to the shoreline.

  1939: The US Lighthouse Service becomes part of the US Coast Guard.

  1958: The light station is converted to an automatic light. Allen Pearson Cain, the last lightkeeper of South Fox, leaves the island.

  1959: The last crew leaves the light station. The equipment of the lantern room including the 4th order Fresnel lens of the old (1867) tower is moved to Old Presque Ile Light on Lake Huron to replace the vandalized lantern of that light station.

  1962: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) introduces more deer to island.

  1968: The automatic light system is shut down. Electronic navigation has rendered it obsolete.

  1971: The U.S. Department of Interior transfers the southernmost 115 acres to the DNR for public park and recreation "in perpetuity."

  1978: A report by the DNR Waterways Division states the agency's goals for the site:
"Waterways Division acquired this property with the idea of developing it in the future as a harbor of refuge. Such a facility would accommodate the boater with a rustic and historical surrounding. The historical significance of the island could be used to advantage with tours through the buildings and area... The deed of the property charged us with certain responsibilities. One is to protect an ancient gravesite from desecration... The property was obtained from the U.S. Government for public purposes... Our biggest problem at this time is to provide minimum maintenance to the property in order to preserve and protect it until a harbor is developed."
The harbor of refuge project was later dropped, but the rest of the goals actually still apply.

  1980: The U.S. Department of Interior transfers the lighthouse and grounds to the State of Michigan.

  1984: A first clean-up of the light station site, initiated by the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) Youth Employment and organized and supervised by Bradley Boese, is done by 10 members of the Michigan Youth Corp. Click here to read Brad's excellent report, taken from the now defunct Web site of the Fox Island Education Association by Cathy Allchin.

  1994: David V. Johnson purchases North Fox Island after another party proposed building a $100 million, 642-unit luxury housing project on the island. "I couldn't stand by and watch North Fox Island be destroyed," Johnson told the TC Record-Eagle.

  1995: The Natural Resources Commission announces it is considering the acquisition of North Fox in a trade with Johnson, who also owns two thirds of South Fox. Johnson has proposed trading the entire 832 acres on North Fox to the state in exchange for the remaining third of South Fox, which the state owns. Total land in public ownership is 1,140 acres.

  1996: The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians opposes the proposal, citing ancestral ties to the island, a tribal cemetery, and treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather vegetation on public land in areas its ancestors ceded to the U.S. governments in an 1836 treaty. DNR's district office opposes the swap, saying South Fox is more important than North Fox for ecological reasons, public recreation and accessibility.

  1997: Maybe in view of much public opposition, the DNR rejects Johnson's swap proposal. Instead, DNR director K.L. Cool says the state wants to buy North Fox. In December, the state's Natural Resources Trust Fund approves purchase of North Fox for $2 million to use it as a natural area open to public access and for ecological research.

  2000: The Grand Traverse Band offers to take ownership of the south tip of South Fox Island, including the former light station. The federal government rejects the proposal, citing the 1949 Federal Lands to Parks law, which does not mention tribes as possible recipients.
A request is filed by the DNR to allow a road to be built through critical dune land on South Fox. As the state says, the road is needed to make repairs to the light station. The state doesn't plan to do the repairs, though. According to the land swap draft, Johnson will have to restore and maintain the lighthouse. Opponents fear that the road would just be used to link Johnson's house to the lighthouse and the southern beach area.

  2001: Despite strong opposition from a standing-room-only crowd at a meeting, the Leelanau Township Planning Commission recommends that the Leelanau Township Board not oppose the special exception permit for the construction of the road on the island. The DEQ can't issue the permit unless the township approves.
The Michigan United Conservation Club Region 1V board adopts a resolution opposing the land swap. The swap also is opposed by various associations. In March, the Leelanau Township Board votes to oppose the road permit, which leaves the whole swap up in the air.
In September, the DNR bans hunting on the southernmost 115 acres of South Fox to prevent vandalism of the historic lighthouse.
In December, the DNR and Johnson eventually reach a swap agreement that does not include the 115 acres transferred to the state in the 1970s. The Grand Traverse Band files a lawsuit against David Johnson opposing the deal, citing the tribe's treaty land claims on the island.

  2002: The Fox Island Education Association (FIEA) is founded by Cathy Allchin, Bradley Boese and friends. Its goal is the preservation of the light station.
The Michigan Land Use Institute joins the Grand Traverse Band's lawsuit, saying the DNR did not follow its own policies for transferring state lands.
State Attorney General Jennifer Granholm rules that she cannot approve the swap because of Indian land claims that "cloud" the title on 200 of the 219 acres to be traded.
David Johnson files a counter-suit against the Grand Traverse Band and the Michigan Land Use Institute.
In November, Leelanau Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power rules against some of the tribal claims. This clears the "cloud" over the title and allows the swap to proceed.

  2003: The Michigan Land Use Institute holds a forum in Traverse City in an attempt to drum up opposition to the land swap. However, on March 7, Attorney General Mike Cox certifies the transfer.

  2004: Two board members of the former FIEA, Sandy Bradshaw and John McKinney, and an associate, H. Joerg Rothenberger from Switzerland, launch the South Fox Island Lighthouse Restoration Project (SFILRP) in order to revive the restoration plans for the Light Station. After thorough preparation in Summer, a Web site is published, soon reaching fairly good attention. A meeting is held in October, albeit with somewhat poor public attendance. However, very important connections can be made.

  2005: Stephanie Staley, director of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, sets up a public awareness campaign with a series of activities involving school classes. Public presentations are held at the Maritime Academy in Traverse City in March and in Northport in April.
In view of the application for non-profit status, the fledgling group is renamed Fox Island Lighthouse Association (FILA).
Around the end of April the FILA learns that a great boat will be donated to FILA as soon as non-profit status is obtained. However, the non-profit status application is stuck in a long waiting-list. In May, the South Fox Island Restoration Project Exhibit is opened to the public at the GT Lighthouse Museum. In early June, the very young FILA Website is chosen as the Website of the Week by Leelanau Communications, Inc..
For the rest of the year, FILA concentrates on making important contacts and on technical issues concerning the boat, such as the purchase of a trailer. The group is unable to get a ride to the island, which shows the importance of having a boat.

  2006: In January, the FILA Web site is chosen by Leelanau Communications as the Northern Michigan Site of the Year 2005. In February, FILA gets non-profit status, and it becomes a member of the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance. Presentations of the lighthouse project are given at a Grand Traverse Bay Power Squadron meeting and at the Chicago Maritime Festival.
In May, the donated boat is moved to Northport to be reconditioned. Thanks to volunteering skippers, several trips to the light station can be made in May and June. An assessment of the state of the buildings is followed by basic repairs (windows, metalwork of the lantern room etc.).
In June, the Board of Directors of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum approves a resolution that establishes close cooperation with FILA.
In August, the boat is launched, but it still has to undergo some work on the engines. FILA presents its project at various public events. The thicket around the light station buildings is cleared by volunteers and FILA members. In September and October, various repairs are made on metal structures, roofs and chimneys. In November, the results of the work and a task list for 2007 are presented to the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR issues an extension of the use permit through the end of the 2007 season. The annual assembly in December introduces the new bylaws and the board of directors is re-elected.

  2007: The two engines of the Lightkeeper, FILA's boat, are rebuilt and a lot of other maintenance and repair work is done on the boat. Several board meetings are held in cooperation with the Board of Directors of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. FILA gets office space and a phone number at the GTLHM. A new computer based presentation of the South Fox Island Lighthouse Restoration Project is created. Again, a lecture on the project is presented at the Chicago Maritime Festival.
A benefit concert for both lighthouses, featuring Chicago maritime musician Lee Murdock, is held in Suttons Bay on February 28. Another presentation of the project is given at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City in March. A great set of aerial photos of the South Fox Light Station is shot by FILA board member Cathy Allchin in spring 2007.
Starting in June, regular work trips to the island are made whenever the weather is safe enough. They include participation of GTLHM volunteer lightkeepers. The Lightkeeper boat is launched in July. In late August, Team Nickerson, three generations of descendants of the family that owned most of the island decades ago, spends a whole week at the light station and gets a lot of work done.
In September, the first Fall Harvest Festival with Pancake Breakfast and Silent Auction is held at the Leelanau State Park pavilion next to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum in Northport. In October, the light station buildings are secured for winter. Team Nickerson gives a great presentation of their work week at FILA's Annual Assembly in December.

  2008: This year sees FILA's boat, the Lightkeeper, in full action. Many trips to the island are made between May and October, and many people, FILA members as well as volunteers, spend some time at the light station to contribute their share to the preservation of the station.
In June, FILA takes part in the conference of the Michigan Lighthouse Association held in Traverse City. Five local artists (three painters, one writer and one photographer) spend a day at the light station to capture scenes for an art show in Northport.
A new flag pole is erected in the original stanchion next to the 1867 lighthouse, and the FILA flag is proudly raised together with Old Glory. In July, a group of boy scouts from Charlevoix spends four days at the station, doing a lot of work.
The video camera on top of the skeletal tower is connected to the mainland via directional radio. The pictures captured are displayed at the South Fox exhibition at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
In August, the totally overgrown site of the well house is found in the thicket near the southern beach. Team Nickerson does a lot of great work in a sequel to their work week of the previous year. The boat house is completely re-roofed, the workshop is painted, and more walkways are dug out.
In September, FILA holds the second Fall Harvest Festival at the GT Lighthouse Museum. The last trip to the station is made on October 12. The Annual Meeting in December brings an expansion of the board.

  2009: FILA gets substantial financial support from the state! This is very encouraging, and so is the good cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources.
After careful planning and preparation on the mainland, outings to the island begin in late May. The board meeting of June is visited by US Coast Guard representatives, who give us important advice concerning emergencies on the island and on the water.
Many work parties are taken to the island and back to Northport. An emergency radio connection to the Leelanau County Police is established. A detailed survey of the lighthouse property is started to make even more accurate plans of the complex. A whole group of state officials (DNR and State Historic Preservation Office) is taken to the island to give them a close-up impression. After a third episode of Team Nickerson doing a lot of work at the station, the deteriorating roof of the workshop is repaired and reshingled. Meanwhile, FILA members present our project to the public at several big events in the area, including the third Fall Harvest Festival at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum in Northport.
Towards the end of the season, even pretty heavy equipment is transported to the light station to do some landscaping. Now practically all walkways, as far as we know them, are free of humus, rocks and overgrowth. Again, FILA has used every opportunity to make progress.

  2010: In March, FILA is awarded the MRPA Community Service Award by the Michigan Recreation & Parks Association (MRPA) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) at a ceremony in East Lansing.
In spring, FILA Vice President Cathy Alchin gives several public slide presentations in the GT area. A project for a safe harbor at the Light station is intiated by the Michigan Waterways Commission, while the DNRE spearheads the effort to get FILA listed with the National Register. The FILA board decides to approve the bid for the Historic Structures Report from Upper Peninsula Engineers & Architects in Marquette.
In spring and summer many work trips to South Fox Island are made, with volunteers of all kinds working on various projects at the Light Station. As in previous years, once in a while, crews are isolated on the island for several days due to bad weather preventing the FILA boat from recovering them.
Probably the most important outing is the one with Ken Czapski and his ad-hoc assistant, Heather Landis, who do all the on-the-spot research for the Historic Structures Report. The Webmaster spends a whole week on the island to gather thousands of measurements for even more accurate maps of the Light Station and the neighboring dune area.
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, FILA is present at various regional events to raise public awareness. By the end of the season, the 1867 Lighthouse gets a completely new temporary roof, because patching up all the leaks just hadn't done the job.
The very successful year is rounded off by the Annual Meeting at the Traverse City District Library, with elections to the board, a presentation of the activities of 2010 and a big Holiday Potluck for the board and the numerous supporters, live music included.

  2011: FILA continues their cooperation with Ken Czapski of U.P. Engineers & Architects Inc. for the Historic Structures Report. The cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment and with the State Historical Preservation Office is intensified, and FILA joins the Michigan Historical Society. Board members and supporters carry out many oral history interviews.
In spring, it becomes more and more evident that the Lighkeeper, FILA's boat, is too expensive in the long run, due to too many repairs and exorbitant expenses for fuel. Alternatives are necessary. For trips to the island, FILA has to entirely rely on privately owned boats. Despite those difficulties, a lot of important work can be done on the island, including an archaelogical dive trip by the State Marine Archaeologist.
During summer, FILA is represented at various events in the Grand Traverse area, and in October, the group and the Leelanau State Park organizes the 5th Fall Festival at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Just a few days after the Festival, FILA receives a Special Merit Award from the History Center of Traverse City (formerly the Grand Traverse Heritage Center).
In November, two board members purchase a boat, which they are willing to loan to FILA for transportation. In December, the traditional Annual Meeting concludes the year, this time at Center Pointe (formerly the Great Lakes State Building) in Greilickville.

  2012: Cooperation with a team at the Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City is initiated in order to give FILA's visual appearance a face-lift. The most important project of the past two years, the Historic Structures Report (HSR), is finalized and submitted to the State Historical Preservation Office. What's more, the pretty substantial financial aspects of the report can be settled.
Negotiations with authorities concerning the Safe Harbor project are continued, besides the HSR one of FILA's most important projects in view of the difficulties constantly faced when trying to safely transport crews and materials to the island and back to the mainland. The cooperation with all the important agencies and authorities is cultivated also in many other fields. Even the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan, Hon. Brian Calley, is briefed on the state of affairs.
Quite a few work trips to the Light Station are made, and the restoration of the Boat House can be almost completed. New equipment is brought to the island. However, due to the weather and the smaller boat, there are fewer outings than in former years. The Lightkeeper, FILA's former boat, is purchased by a board member, with the intent to recommission her on FILA's behalf in future years after some technical changes.
As in the years before, FILA is represented at various regional events, such as the Classic Boat Show in Suttons Bay, the Port Oneida Fair, the Leland Heritage Festival, and, of course, the 6th Leelanau State Park Harvest Festival.
At the end of the year, the Annual Meeting with elections and potluck is held at the Traverse Area District Library.

  2013: After celebrating President John McKinney's birthday (one with a "0" at the end) in January, FILA soon gets back to serious business. In February, the group's historical material is made available to the public at the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at the Leelanau Historical Society Museum in Leland. A 25 ft sterndrive boat is donated to FILA by Arrow Roofing and Supply of Grand Rapids and Traverse City.
In spring, plans are made for a dock, based on donated floating dock sections, and an emergency handbook / crisis management plan is drafted in cooperation with the DNR. Between several work trips aboard the Islander, one of them featuring an incredible gnat invasion, another trip is made aboard the DNR boat in June to show around conservation officers and DNR staff, in dense fog.
After two years in storage, the refurbished Lightkeeper is recommissioned in July and serves two more work trips. All in all, seven work trips of up to four days are made.
Besides the work and fun on the island, FILA also takes part in various events on the mainland. A 25 year lease contract with the DNR is signed. Presentations of our work are given at meetings of various organizations, and a 30 minute interview of Vice President Cathy Allchin is aired on UpNorth TV.
The year is concluded by the traditional Annual Meeting, featuring, besides elections and a potluck meal, a walk-about video of the station from the early 'nineties.

  2014: In spring, FILA members attend the DNR Friends Summit at Grayling, the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance Conference in Traverse City and a tour to several lighthouses on Lake Superior. The first work trip to South Fox Island aboard the Islander ends with a blown cylinder head gasket and a ride home on the 6 HP emergency outboard engine. Technical problems keep the SlickCraft, donated to FILA the year before, ailing as well.
The Lightkeeper, FILA's good ole workhorse, steps into the breach, to a certain extent anyway, limited mainly by the windy weather that often makes island trips impossible for weeks. Despite her well known fads, in August the Lightkeeper makes two work trips of three days each, getting sashes to the mainland, which are used for the window restoration classes by the Michigan Historic Preservation Network & SHPO in September.
As usual, FILA does quite a bit of public relations work too, participating in the Suttons Bay Classic Boat Show, the Port Oneida Fair, the Traverse City Schooner Fest and, of course, the Harvest Festival at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
The weather doesn't allow any more island trips, which is somewhat disappointing. Members continue window restoration work at a private home. The Annual Meeting in December sees the celebration of FILA's 10th anniversary, with a BIG birthday cake.

  2015: In February, another interview of FILA vice president is aired on UpNorth TV. In April, five FILA members attend the DNR Friends Summit. FILA's Website sees its 100,000th visit.
The first island trip is made around mid June to open the buildings, assess winter damage and develop detailed plans for the complete reconstruction of the lean-to at the rear side of the 1867 Lighthouse. Before the end of the month, Kathy and Bruce Rollins from Bullard, TX, set up their camp at the Light Station as the first participants in the FILA Camper Keeper Program. For a whole month, the Station is manned 24/7, first time since 1959.
In July, lots of heavy materials are transported to the Station by the DNR, NPS and contractor personnel using several vessels. By the end of July, as the Rollins break camp, Jerry Spears and his construction crew take over, remove the collapsing lean-to and reconstruct it using the materials brought by the NPS vessels. The new big doors for the Boat House are installed as well.
August sees several work trips too, mainly for installing the window sashes that were restored on the mainland since last fall. All in all, with about ten work trips, this 10th summer of FILA activities on South Fox Island is by far the most successful of them all.
Besides the work at the Station, FILA takes part in the Great Lakes Celebration in Suttons Bay and the Fall Festival at the Leelanau State Park, the latter the ninth time in a row. The year is rounded off by the traditional Annual Meeting, including the 100th Board Meeting.

  2016: In winter and early spring, preparations for a new landing dock at the Light Station are intensified by the DNR and other authorities. In cooperation with the DNR, a FILA team travels to Muskegon to pick up 300 additional cream-colored bricks to be used in repairs at the station.
The first work trip to the island is already a five-day operation, mainly focussing on the on-site restoration and installation of windows on the 1867 Lighthouse. Several other work trips follow, one culminating in a severe damage in the drive train of the Islander boat. The first Camper Keeper couple has to be delivered by a volunteered boat.
In early August, the cream bricks, a big pile of tongue-and-groove paneling for the lean-to and two representatives of potential bidders for the reconstruction of the Lighthouse dock are taken to the station aboard a barge of the National Park Service.
Roughly at the same time, the Lightkeeper boat is recommissioned and subsequently used for several trips to realize the roll-over of the Camper Keeper teams and transport of some bulky items to the station. On one of those crossings of the Manitou Passage, the 75th work trip and the 5000th nautical mile on behalf of the South Fox Island are celebrated with Champagne.
On the mainland, FILA participates in the Port Oneida Fair and holds the 10th Pancake Breakfast at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. The season at the station is concluded with a trip aimed at gathering more information for the construction of a new docking facility. The attendance at the Annual Meeting in December is unusually poor due to very bad road conditions in the area.

  2017: Winter and early spring see quite a lot of preparation on the mainland, including FILA members attending the DNR Friends Summit in Roscommon, MI, and restoration of windows. Starting in May, eleven work trips are made, a new record, including one by the barge of the National Park Service but not counting one attempt aborted due to heavy seas in the Manitou Passage.
In early June an all new outhouse, built by our friends at the DNR, is installed, marking the end of the legendary Lilac Garden Throne era. Details for the replacement of the Fog Signal Building roof and of the docking facility at the Boat House are evaluated. Several rooms in the 1867 Lighthouse and the Assistant Keepers' Quarters are ridded of the old flaking lead paint to make them habitable. Restoration work on the 1934 Skeleton Tower is begun too.
Apart from a brief break in early June, the Light Station is continuously manned from May 23 through August 24, a new record too. Our first Camper Keeper couple of 2015, Kathy and Bruce Rollins, spend another four weeks at the Station, their third stay, meanwhile totaling twelve weeks, yet another record. Several other great Keeper teams contribute a huge lot of volunteer work too, and they all say they want to come back. It looks like there really is something special out there.
In view of the fact that the South Fox Island Lighthouse was first lit in 1867, several events celebrating the sesquicentennial are held, including FILA's participation in the 165 year anniversary of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse in June (featuring a big birthday cake for all visitors!) and the presentation of the new FILA coloring book at the GTLH lobster dinner in August.
The Annual Meeting in November is held at the Leland Township Public Library, with an amazing attendance in view of the wintry road conditions.

  2018: Certainly FILA's most successful year so far in pretty much every respect. After a lot of general groundwork on the mainland in winter and spring, the Fog Signal Building gets a new roof and major repairs of some heavily damaged wall sections in May and June by a professional team, which includes several dozen boat runs by the contractor. Those guys haul an incredible lot of materials. The construction crew also clears the area around and under the 1934 Skeleton Tower.
In late June, the Lightkeeper takes the first Summer Keeper team, our seasoned friends from Texas, Kathy and Bruce, to the station. Their fourth stay, "only" three weeks this time, kicks off a permanent occupation by five Keeper teams till late August, with additional work trips in between and a final, somewhat shaky shut-down visit in mid September.
The Light Station again sees several visits by the schooner Inland Seas of plus one by folks from Switzerland. The latter is connected to the wedding of two founding members at Northport's G. Marsten Dame Marina in early August, a big lighthouse party with attendance from both sides of the Atlantic.
In the course of the summer it becomes clear that the progress of the dock project will significantly slow down due to more on-site research needed to satisfy legal requirements. As usual, FILA members present our efforts at various local and regional events, and the traditional Annual Meeting nicely concludes the year with a nice review of yet another year of records: most work trips, most material transported, biggest construction / restoration progress, longest period of occupation, most Summer Keeper teams, first whitewash in many decades on the 1867 Lighthouse, first wedding between two FILA board members, and probably a few more.

Compiled by Hans Joerg Rothenberger.  

Many of the older details presented here were taken from a collection of excerpts from Annual Reports of the US Lighthouse Board submitted by Terry Pepper of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association in 2005. The entire collection can be seen by clicking here.

Terry also runs Seeing the Light, a Great Lakes lighthouse collection, and his very detailed list of all Lightkeepers at the South Fox Island Light Station can be viewed here.

Thank you very much Terry!

Top of page


Mysteries & Questions

This section is about things that puzzle us, objects at the South Fox Island Light Station of which we would like to know the purpose, observations we cannot explain etc..

Dear visitor, if you know more than we do, please and share your knowledge with us!

Structures of which we need to know more

- The plumbing stuff in the sandy brush area close to the south-east beach, i.e. south of the Assistant Keepers' Quarters and west of the boathouse. In our plan on the Facts & Maps page, the site is called the "Newer Well House". Was that really the second well, of which some sources say it was dug in 1905? Are there pictures of the installation?

Clipping of station plan showing plumbing
Location of the plumbing site.

Plumbing close to the beach
A burst tank and a pipe protruding from
the ground.

Logs at right angles in the sand
Logs lying in the sand at right angles,
just a few feet east of the pipe.

- The all-rusty little iron hut in the woods north of the skeletal tower. Doug McCormick, who spent six years of his childhood at the light station, told us that it was used as a smokehouse, and the pitch-black interior confirms that. However, it seems a bit unlikely that it was built for that purpose, especially in view of the fact that it cannot be found in any official plans. Could it be that it originally was built over one of said wells and later moved to its present location? Old aerial photos show a wooden structure close to or at the location of the newer well, and the site of the old well we found in August 2008 consists of just a few rotting beams and boards. Is there a connection?

Location of the smokehouse
Location of the smokehouse.

The smokehouse
The smokehouse.

- The plywood hatch and concrete pit close to the walkway junction SW of the workshop. Maybe it contains plumbing buried under humus and bugs. Any hints out there?

Location of the pit
Location of the pit and hatch.

Pit with plywood hatch
Plywood hatch in the foreground,
Workshop in the background.

- The three-legged steel cone in the woods west of the Assistant Keepers' Quarters, sometimes jestingly called "The Still" in FILA lingo. It's about 10 ft tall and completely empty inside. What was that funny looking gadget for?

Location of the "still"
The "still" is just a few steps east of
the Assistant Keepers' Quarters.

The "still" on the hill
The steel frame has a triangular

Top of the "still"
The top of the "still."

Looking inside the funnel through
the bottom opening.

We assume that this contraption may have been a sand filter for drinking water. Imagine the cone being filled with fine sand (abundant on the beach!), the water fed to the top, being filtered on its way to the bottom where there was another pipe (now missing) to catch it for use. However, we have no evidence for this theory. Who has?

- The somewhat strange wooden clothesline pole with the wires that do not make it look like a real clothesline pole at all. Originally there were two of those poles, as can be seen on an old black-and-white aerial, and their location on a straight line confirms the clothesline theory. But what were those wires for?

Clothesline pole?
The clothesline pole or whatever it is, seen from the east side of the 1867 lighthouse.

The wires at the top of the pole
The hooks may have been used for clotheslines, but what about the wires?

UPDATE Spring 2010: Doug McCormick (see above) told FILA that the pole, together with a presumably decayed counterpart, had been used for hanging fishing nets. Sounds perfectly reasonable. Thank you very much Doug!

UPDATE September 2010: The same info was provided by Ginna Bourisseau, niece of Zane Bourisseau, who spent many summers of his childhood at the station.

- The pipe and pole between the bushes east of the flag pole, i.e. southeast of the 1867 lighthouse. Any idea what purpose they served? Maybe something to do with the septic field nearby?

Pipe and pole near the flag pole
The pipe and pole seen from west.

Looking from the pipe & pole to the lighthouse
Looking northeast past the pole.

Other questions

- Why were the boilers etc. dragged from the fog signal building to the beach near the boat house? What sense did it make to move those very heavy things and then just drop them on the beach? Who did that? When?

Boilers and other stuff on the beach
Boilers, coal conveyors and other stuff
on the beach just south of the boat house.

- Where is the catwalk that led from the cupola of the fog signal building to the skeletal tower?

- What happened to the Fresnel lens (lantern) of the skeletal tower? Certain sources say it was the lens of the 1867 light that got moved to the Old Presque Ile Light around 1959. It seems that the lens in the skeleton tower was part of the automated system that kept that light on till 1968. And then?

- What is the history of the so called summer kitchen? It was exactly where the workshop is now, but most likely it was not the same building. There is one old photo (pre 1910) that shows the summer kitchen in a little building, open on two sides. When was it built? When was the workshop built?

- What is the history of the rather short and very heavy ladder that was found in the attic of the workshop? Is the name carved in the side perhaps that of a ship?

- Why was one of the second floor windows on the south side of the Assistant Keepers' Quarters boarded up with a plywood sheet that shows the black contour of what looks like a hit man from a western movie? It obviously provoked firearm vandalism. Who put that board there and when?

The "cowboy window" a bit closer
 The "cowboy window."

- Where is the vent ball that formerly topped the roof of the lantern room of the 1867 lighthouse? It was not a real ball like the one on top of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. The shape was more like a bucket, so it was pretty similar to the one on the roof of the oil house, just bigger. However, old US Lighthouse Service documents called it a "vent ball" all the same.

- Does anybody know the history of the two grave markers on the wooded knoll north of the Assistant Keeper's Quarters?

Grave marker #1
 This obviously is the grave marker
of a Civil War veteran. "GAR POST"
stands for a local branch of the
"Grand Army of the Republic."

Grave marker #2
 This one just reads "LEADER."
Doug McCormick told us it might be
a dog's grave.

ADDENDUM December 2008: Robert Harris, who had been at the Light Station as part of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1953, told FILA that Leader was a Blue-Tick Hound hunting dog that belonged to Allen Cain. "Leader" was killed in a hunting accident in 1953. Allen Cain was 1st Assistant 1946 - 1948 and Keeper 1948 - 1958.

ADDENDUM II April 2009 by George Carpenter, FILA Secretary:
The flag holder reads GAR 399 and the copper cross simply bears the name “Leader”.  The flag holder was made for the Woolsey Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Civil War Veterans Post #399.  The post was active in Northport from 1889 to 1921.  A study conducted by Jeffrey Adams, on record at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, concluded that it might be William T. Lewis.  Lewis was an Acting Keeper from July 1882 to June 1883, when he was made Keeper, and then served until October 1885.  This is confirmed in Kathleen Craker Firestone's book, "The Fox Islands - North and South".  Lewis is reported in our Keeper's List as dying in 1885 and Firestone's book says he died on the Island from a fall.  A conversation with Doug McCormick, who was a Lighthouse Group Commander in northern Lake Michigan from 1949 to the late 1950s for the U. S. Coast Guard, confirmed that Lewis fell from the Lighthouse Tower while painting it.  McCormick spent seven shipping seasons at the Station and remembers looking out his bedroom window “at the Old Vet’s grave” (his father was Keeper at the station from 1915 until 1922). At this point, we are working to learn whether Lewis was a Civil War Veteran.  

- Mysterious nature (added April 1, 2009):

Track on the west beach
What kind of creature left this strange track,
spotted by the Webmaster on the west
beach in August 2008? A snake? The only
gator in northern Michigan?



















Got it? That was not an animal. Those grass blades, moved by the wind, whipped the sand around their roots, and it's a mere coincidence the semicircular patterns combined to form that snake-like track.

Yeah, added on April 1st!



Latest update March 22, 2019