Born in Dundas, Ontario on January 21, 1844 to Scottish parents, William Livingstone moved to Detroit as an infant and graduated from city schools in 1862. Soon after graduating, Livingstone began his multifaceted career, which would see him rise to prominence in banking, publishing, and Great Lakes transportation. After serving as an apprentice machinist in Detroit’s railroad shops, Livingstone started a shipping business with his father in 1865. Livingstone purchased the Detroit Evening Journal in 1885, and in April 1900, he became president of the Dime Savings Bank, a position he held until October 17, 1925, when he died in his office at the bank building.
With all of his accomplishments, Livingstone is best remembered for his contributions to shipping on the Great Lakes. He founded the Michigan Navigation Company in 1880, and then served as general manager of the Percheron Steam Navigation Company, responsible for the construction of the steamships Palmer and Livingstone, which at 297 feet in length were the largest ships on the Great Lakes.
From 1902 until his death in 1925, Livingstone served as president of the Lake Carriers’ Association. In this role, he was instrumental in persuading the Federal Government to construct the 1,350-foot Davis and Sabin locks at Sault Ste. Marie, to deepen and straighten channels in the St. Mary’s River and across Lake St. Clair, and to build an independent waterway for downbound vessels in the lower Detroit River. Work on this last work, which was named the Livingstone Channel to honor the president of the Lake Carriers' Association, began in 1908 and opened to commerce on October 19, 1912, with the freighter William Livingstone leading the procession.
As a tribute to William Livingstone, a memorial lighthouse was built at the east end of Belle Isle Park on land donated by the City of Detroit and with funds provided by the Lake Carriers' Association and citizens of Detroit. The following description of the lighthouse, which commenced operation on April 8, 1930, was provided by the Lighthouse Service:
The lighthouse is in the form of a fluted shaft of white marble, 47 feet high, rising from an octagonal platform of the same material, flanked by wide steps on all sides. The shaft is about 11 feet in diameter at the base, tapering to about 8 feet at the top, where it is surmounted by a bronze lantern of irregular octagonal shape. There is a heavy bronze door at the base, and handsome bronze inscriptions have been placed to indicate the purpose of the memorial. A circular interior staircase, of the usual lighthouse construction provides access to the lantern.
Inside the lantern is a fourth order lens fitted with an electric light, giving a candlepower of approximately 11,500. In order to project light into the shadows cast by heavy astragals of the lantern, four auxiliary reflector lights, each of 150 watt capacity, are provided. All lights are occulting, showing a light of four seconds duration every five seconds. Suitable stand-by equipment is provided in the form of a battery-operated low-voltage lamp mounted in an auxiliary sixth order lens, placed immediately beneath the main light.
In speaking at the dedication of the Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse held on October 17, 1930, H.S. King, Deputy Commissioner of Lighthouses, included the following in his remarks:
The lighthouse has always seemed to me to be symbolic of two primary ideals, reliability and service, and that this permanent memorial has appropriately taken this shape well signifies the extent to which the life of Mr. Livingstone fulfilled these ideals.
Now when two individuals or two organizations are both devoted to the same high ideals, there must grow out of such an association a mutual respect and a spirit of confidence and cooperation. This spirit of mutual confidence and cooperation, beginning under the guidance of William Livingstone and preserved and extended by his successors to-day, characterizes the relations between the Lake Carriers Association and the Lighthouse Service. It is in no small way responsible for the fact that the Lighthouse Service is able to progress so rapidly and systematically with the development and use of the most up-to-date methods and apparatus in the section covered by the operations of the Lake Carriers Association. A striking example of this is the radiobeacon system on the Lakes. It took far-sighted vision to recognized 10 or even 5 years ago what this new aid might mean to the fog-bound mariner and to ask the conservative navigator to trust his life and his vessel to this new and unfamiliar device. And it took mutual confidence and cooperation to make it the success it is to-day. We feel in Washington this confidence in the progressiveness, the honesty of judgement, and the spirit of reliability and service of the Lake Carriers Association, and are gratified to be able to join with you in the dedication of this beautiful shaft as a most fitting symbol of the life and work of William Livingstone.
Today, the lighthouse alternately sends out a white and red flash, separated by ten seconds, and continues to remind visitors of the accomplishments of William Livingstone, one of the Detroit's most prominent and public-spirited citizens.
- Lighthouse Service Bulletin, various years.
- “Finding aid for William Livingstone papers, 1850 – 1995,” Bentley Historical Library.
- Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders, John N. Ingham, 1983.
Located at the eastern tip of Belle Isle Island.
For a larger map of William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.
Instructions: From Highway 10 in downtown Detroit near the GM building, take Jefferson Avenue east for two
miles to Grand Boulevard. Turn right on Grand Boulevard, which
will take you onto Belle Isle. Once on Belle Isle, the main road goes
counterclockwise around the island. Follow the road to the eastern
end of the island, where you can park and walk to the William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse.
The lighthouse is owned by the City of Detroit and managed by the Detroit Recreation Department. Grounds open, tower closed.
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Notes from a friend:
According to an informational sign at Beaver Island Lighthouse, a fourth-order Fresnel lens on display there was reportedly used for fifty years at William Livingston Lighthouse.
While you are on Belle Isle, it is definitely worth making a stop at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. Besides having a collection of Fresnel lenses donated by Evelyn Osborn in memory of Milton Hogg, the museum has interesting displays on the Great Lakes and a pilot house where you can watch freighters transiting the Detroit River. Of the five lenses on display - four, fourth-order and one third-order - only the origin of the fourth-order lens that is missing its bull's-eyes is known. It served in Passage Island Lighthouse on Lake Superior.
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