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 Peche Island, MI    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.
Description: Isle aux Pêches, French for Fisheries Island, is a Canadian Island situated at the confluence of the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. Though the island is known today by most Anglophones as Peche Island, for a period of time it was called Peach Island.

Peche Island Front Range Light in 1904
Photograph courtesy National Archives
On July 13, 1892, Congress passed an act that provided for a ship channel with a minimum depth of twenty feet to be dredged in the shallows of the connecting waters of the Great Lakes. The work was carried out over the next five years, and one of the improvements funded was a twenty-foot channel through Grosse Point Flats in Lake St. Clair.

Pile clusters marking the edge of this twenty-foot channel were carried away in January 1898, and it was decided that axial range lights should be built in shoal water north of Peche Island to mark the channel. Isle aux Peches Range Lights were established on April 15, 1898, with the front light consisting of a mast supported by a pile of clusters driven in nineteen feet of water. The mast was topped by a target and had a horizontal arm with two fixed white lens-lantern lights, spaced ten feet apart and displayed at a focal plane of eighteen feet. The rear light was similar in form but stood in eight feet of water, 4,650 feet southwest of the front light, and had a focal plane of thirty-eight feet.

As part of what would become a recurring theme at Isle aux Peches, the range lights were carried away by ice in the spring of 1899, but new piles had been driven by April 20, 1899, and two days later, lights, similar to the original range, were in place. On July 28, 1899, a tugboat carried away the front light, but it was re-established roughly a week later on August 4 at the expense of the tug’s owners. The front light was carried away by another vessel on September 17, 1899, but as it was impractical to determine the party responsible, the government picked up the tab for rebuilding the light.

1908 Peche Island Rear Range Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Both range lights were again carried away by ice in the spring of 1900, but replacements were ready for operation on April 28, 1900. After rebuilding the lights in 1900, the Lighthouse Board noted: “The fact that the piles on which these two lights stand are always carried away by ice in the winter, and during the summer are once or twice run down by passing vessels, shows the need for structures of some strength and permanence which will serve as day beacons for the range and from which lights can be exhibited at night. The present arrangement has proven to be inadequate, as the light is not visible at times when it should be under reasonable atmospheric conditions. Something larger and more substantial is required.” The Board requested $12,000 so that crib lights could be built on the range with a skeletal tower for the rear light and a keeper’s dwelling surmounted by a tower for the front light.

Isle aux Peches Range Lights were again carried away by ice in the spring of 1901 and 1902, but were re-established in April of the corresponding year. The Lighthouse Board repeated its request for funds for a more substantial range, and in 1902, it increased the projected cost to $18,000. The Board felt that the distance between the range lights should be decreased so they could both be seen in thick weather. This change would require the rear range light to be in deeper water, which, along with the increase in labor and material since the initial request, raised the projected cost of the range lights.

The range lights were again carried away by ice in the spring of 1903, and then re-established in April, only to have the front range carried away by an unknown vessel in June. The range lights were carried away by ice during the next three winters, but they were faithfully rebuilt the following spring and put back in service.

Congress finally appropriated $18,000 on June 30, 1906 for a more robust set of range lights at Isle aux Peches. Later that year, a survey was made to select the sites for the lights and plans for the structures were drawn up. Of course, while plans were being made for the new lights, the existing range was carried away by ice during the winter, but it was back in service on April 26, 1907.

Cribs for the lights were built at the Detroit lighthouse depot and then towed out in early May 1907 to the selected sites, where they were secured to piles and filled and riprapped with 342 cords of stone. Work on the superstructure was put off until 1908 so the cribs would have time to settle in place.

Front range ruins and replacement tower
Photograph courtesy National Archives
The permanent lights were placed in operation on June 15, 1908, and the following description of them was given by the Lake Carriers’ Association: “The front light, which is 38 feet above the water level, is a fourth order light flashing white every ten seconds, and the rear light, which is 57 1/2 feet above the water, is a fixed red reflector light. These structures are conical steel towers, built upon concrete piers, constructed to withstand the action of the ice which each spring heretofore has carried away the temporary pile clusters from which these range lights have been exhibited.”

At the opening of navigation in 1909, the intensity of the front light was increased almost tenfold by changing its illuminant from oil to incandescent oil vapor. At the same time, the rear light was improved by changing it from oil to compressed acetylene in acetone. In 1914, the characteristic of the front light was changed to light for one second followed by a one-second eclipse. The height of the rear light was raised in 1926 to increase its focal plane to sixty-six feet.

In early November 1927, a tugboat captain reported that the front range light was ablaze, after having seen two men leave its crib in a rowboat. The fireboat James R. Elliott rushed to the scene, and just as it was tying up to the crib, flames reached the acetylene magazine, which exploded with terrific force. The explosion shattered nearly every window in the fireboat and hurled fireman Harold Koehn into the lake. Hundreds of residents were attracted to the shoreline on both sides of the Detroit River by the explosion and fire. The front tower was blown apart and toppled by the explosion, but a temporary replacement light was established on the crib within days.

By 1980, the rear light had developed a severe list, and in 1983, it was replaced by a modern structure. Michigan Bank – Port Huron acquired the lighthouse from Luedtke Engineering Company, which was contracted to scrap the lighthouse, and then restored the structure and placed it on the riverfront in Marine City. The lighthouse was dedicated at its new home on August 21, 1983.

In 2013, Marine City mayor John Gabor announced that the city had failed to receive a matching grant from the highly competitive Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program, which is funded by the sale of Save Our Lights specialty license plates. A representative of the State Historic Preservation Office explained that it would be difficult for Peche Island Lighthouse to receive grant money as it had been moved from its historic site and because it was built by Canadians. While the first reason may be valid, the 1908 tower is definitely an American lighthouse. Marine City plans to use the money it had reserved as matching funds to proceed with a partial restoration of the tower.

Skeleton towers that display fixed white lights serve Peche Island Range today.

Head Keepers: John F. Kerby (at least 1908).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. “Marine City’s Peche Lighthouse grant denied, rehab still planned,” Jeri Packer, The Voice, June 10, 2013.

Location: Located in Marine City along the St. Clair River.
Latitude: 42.71635
Longitude: -82.49157

For a larger map of Peche Island Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 29 in Marine City, go east on Broadway Street to the St. Clair River, and then right on Water Street. Proceed two blocks and you will see the Peche Island Lighthouse just past the Water Works building between Jefferson and Washington Streets.

The lighthouse is owned by Marine City. Tower closed.

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Pictures on this page copyright Marilyn Stiborek, used by permission.