|Au Sable Pierhead, MI|
Description: Au Sable River meanders through approximately 138 miles of the northern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula before emptying into Lake Huron at Oscoda. The community of Au Sable, platted in 1849, is situated on the southern side of Au Sable River where it enters Lake Huron, while the community of Oscoda lies on the north side.
Fishing and lumber were the primary drivers of the local economy during the second half of the nineteenth century. Located on the southern shore of the river, fifteen miles east of its mouth, is the Lumberman’s Monument, a fourteen-foot-tall bronze sculpture that features three men standing by a log: a timber cruiser holding a Bible, a sawyer with his saw slung over his shoulder, and a river rat resting his peavey on the ground. At one time, there were eight sawmills operating near the mouth of the river. After valuable stands of white pine were located by the timber cruisers, the sawyers would cut down the trees during the winter and haul them on sleds to the river. It was then the job of the river rats to see that the logs reached the sawmills, where they would be cut into boards. The granite base of the Lumberman’s Monument is engraved with the following words: “Erected to perpetuate the memory of the pioneer lumbermen of Michigan through whose labors was made possible the development of the prairie states.”
The square, wooden, open-frame tower at Au Sauble River was twelve feet square at its base and tapered to eight feet below its lantern room. The tower stood just over thirty-two feet tall from its base to the ventilator ball atop the lantern room, and a wooden ladder led from the pier up to the lantern room. A sixth-order lens was originally used to produce a fixed red light, but by 1884, a fifth-order Sautter, Lemonnier, & Cie. lens was in use.
A fire damaged the pierhead light on May 16, 1885, but the tower was quickly repaired. Tom Hendrickson replaced Keating as keeper of the light in 1883. In 1910, he complained to Inspector Oliver G. Brown that as he had no place to keep his boat he was forced to tie it up to a post on the bank of the river. Boys would frequently steal his oars and injure the boat. At this time, a boardwalk led down the pier and then an elevated walkway, with two flights of steps, lead from the outer pier to the tower’s enclosed upper portion.
On July 11, 1911, fierce winds whipped up flames that all but destroyed the settlements at the mouth of the river. A newspaper account from that day, entitled “Fierce Rush of Flames Drives Many into Lake,” described the scene:
Oscoda and Au Sable were wiped off the map this afternoon by fire.
On December 10, the light on Au Sable pier head was moved to the new tower and the characteristic changed from a fixed to a flashing red light of about 130 candle power, 34 feet above the water, showing a flash every three seconds.Fifty-eight-year-old Keeper Hendrickson was not ready to retire and was transferred to Munising, where he was in charge of the range lights there for about a decade.
In 1940, Au Sable Pierhead Light was electrified and its characteristic was changed from flashing red to fixed red. The 1912 skeletal tower was removed from the north pier in 1957, and new towers were placed at the outer end of both the north and south piers at that time. The 1912 tower stood on the grounds of the Oscoda Yacht Club for many years until David Allen, owner of Great Lakes North Gallery, purchased the tower in 2013 for $1,500 and relocated it to his business. Another individual was bidding on the tower with plans to move it across the state, but Allen was determined that it remain in the area. As the tower was in poor condition when he acquired it, Allen hired a man who worked on freighters to paint it for $100.
InOctober 2016, the Oscoda Downton Development Authority voted unanimously to purchse the tower from Allen for $3,500. Oscoda Yacht Club was sold at a bankruptcy auction and demolished earlier in 2016 so it is no longer an available site for the lighthouse, but the township is trying to find a place on the main road where the tower could be placed.
The days of Au Sable River being used as a conduit for the lumber industry ended with the fire in 1911, but the river now sees other activity. Each summer the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon sees pairs of competitive canoers enter the river at 9 p.m. near Grayling and emerge the next day at Oscoda, after having paddled over 120 miles. For those wanting to see the river without expending so much energy, the padlewheeler Au Sable River Queen offers leisurely two-hour trips on the river.
Keepers: George H. Keating (1875 – 1883), Thomas Hendrickson (1883 – 1912).
Located alongside M-23 at Great Lakes North Gallery, seven miles north of Oscoda. The tower is privately owned. Grounds open, tower closed.
The tower is privately owned. Grounds open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Derith Bennett, used by permission.