$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.
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.
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.
New landing docks are built, consisting of sunk cribs.
The old boat house is moved closer to the docks.
Keeper Louis Bourisseau builds about 600 running feet
of wooden walkways, 2 ft wide, connecting the buildings.
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.
A new boat house is built.
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.
A steam launch replaces the open sailing skiff that
had served as the station's official craft.
A second well is sunk east-northeast of the one dug
A post office is built at the Plank farm on the southeastern
side of South Fox.
The District Inspector's survey of the light station
states that the light is fixed red, varied by red flash
every two minutes.
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
The island's post office is closed. Mail is delivered
only once or twice a month.
Deer are introduced on the island.
The intensity of the light is increased.
Farming on the island is abandoned.
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."
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.
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
The US Lighthouse Service becomes part of the US Coast
The light station is converted to an automatic light.
Allen Pearson Cain, the last lightkeeper of South Fox,
leaves the island.
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.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) introduces
more deer to island.
The automatic light system is shut down. Electronic
navigation has rendered it obsolete.
The U.S. Department of Interior transfers the southernmost
115 acres to the DNR for public park and recreation
A report by the DNR Waterways Division states the agency's
goals for the site:
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."
of refuge project was later dropped, but the rest of
the goals actually still apply.
The U.S. Department of Interior transfers the lighthouse
and grounds to the State of Michigan.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Fox Island Education Association (FIEA) is founded
by Cathy Allchin, Bradley Boese and friends. Its goal
is the preservation of the light station.
Land Use Institute joins the Grand Traverse Band's lawsuit,
saying the DNR did not follow its own policies for transferring
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
FILA gets substantial financial support from the state!
This is very encouraging, and so is the good cooperation
with the Department of Natural Resources.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
At the end of the year, the Annual Meeting
with elections and potluck is held at the Traverse Area
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
The Annual Meeting in November is held
at the Leland Township Public Library, with an amazing
attendance in view of the wintry road conditions.
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
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.
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
Top of page
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..
if you know more than we do, please
and share your knowledge with us!
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?
Location of the plumbing site.
A burst tank and a pipe protruding from
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.
- 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 and 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?
The "still" is
just a few steps east of
The steel frame has a triangular
The top of the "still."
Looking inside the funnel through
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?
The clothesline pole or whatever it is,
seen from the east side of the 1867 lighthouse.
The hooks may have been used for clotheslines,
but what about the wires?
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!
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
The pipe and pole seen from west.
Looking northeast past the pole.
- 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, 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
- 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."
- 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?
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."
This one just reads "LEADER."
Doug McCormick told us it might be
a dog's grave.
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
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:
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):
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