|Skillagalee Island (Ile Aux Galets), MI|
Description: Isle aux Galets, “Isle of Pebbles,” is a gravelly, low-lying island situated in the northeast corner of Lake Michigan, between Beaver Island and the mainland. French explorers named the island Isle aux Galets, but subsequent English-speaking inhabitants of the area had a hard time pronouncing the name, and it eventually transformed into Skillagalee. Lighthouse Service records initially used both names when referring to the lighthouse, but by 1889 Skillagalee started to be used exclusively. Around 1910, Ile aux Galets started to be used again, and it is listed by that name on modern light lists published by the U.S. Coast Guard. Interestingly, Skillagalee is actually a word that means a thin broth or gruel.
The lighthouse consisted of a lantern room mounted atop a keeper’s dwelling, and eight lamps and fourteen-inch reflectors were used to produce the fixed red light, which was exhibited at a height of twenty-five feet above the island. The stone, one-and-a-half-story dwelling measured twenty by thirty-six feet and had an attached fifteen-foot-square kitchen. The tiny island must not have been a very appealing place to live as the first five keepers of the lighthouse lasted only one season.
In 1866, the Lighthouse Board noted the following on Skillagalee Lighthouse:
The light at Skilligalee is of insufficient elevation and cannot be seen far enough to subserve the wants of navigation. It is recommended that this light be rebuilt to a height of seventy feet and a more powerful illuminating apparatus provided. An efficient fog-signal is also needed. To accomplish these desired improvements an appropriation of forty thousand dollars is asked.
On March 2, 1867, Congress appropriated the requested amount for “rebuilding and improving the lighthouse at Skillagalee,” but for some reason a fog signal was not built with this money. Later that year, work began on a 100-foot tower and an attached dwelling, both built with yellow brick. Work was suspended at the close of the season and resumed the following spring. On July 19, 1868 a fixed white light produced by a third-order Fresnel was displayed from the tower at a focal plane of 106 feet above the lake.
Just two years after the new lighthouse was completed, Keeper Patrick McCann noted the island had lost twenty feet on the northwest side and twelve feet on the southeast side. This loss was likely due to the lake level, which had risen fifteen inches from 1869 to 1870. A storm on December 4, 1873 washed away two-thirds of the island, and Congress provided $5,000 in 1875 that was used to build a “substantial protection around the whole island.”
On June 23, 1874, Congress appropriated funds for a first-class steam siren for Skillagalee Island. The fog signal commenced operation in the fall of 1875 and was joined by a duplicate siren in 1880. On November 1, 1890, ten-inch steam whistles, built by Thomas Manning, Jr. of Cleveland, Ohio, replaced the sirens.
On March 7, 1888, a $6,875 contract was made for tearing down and rebuilding the tower on Skillagalee Island. A temporary lens lantern was displayed on the island on May 10, 1888, and by the end of June, the 100-foot tower had been demolished and three courses of stonework for the new foundation had been laid. Bricks from the old tower were cleaned and used in the new tower along with 14,000 bricks delivered to the island. The old lantern room and third-order Fresnel lens were taken to the lighthouse depot in Detroit, and a new lantern room and fourth-order, Barbier & Fenestre Fresnel lens were provided.
The new Skillagalee Lighthouse was an octagonal brick tower, measuring fifty-two feet from base to ventilator ball, and was connected to the 1868 dwelling by a twelve-foot-long covered passage. The diameter of the tower tapered from fourteen feet at the base to nine feet at the octagonal lantern room. Keeper Vetal Bourissau placed the new light in operation on October 12, 1888. A brick oil house was added to the station in 1902.
Louis Beloungea, an Odawa Indian who had been serving as an assistant keeper at Waugoshance Lighthouse for eight years, was transferred to Skillagalee and promoted to head keeper to replace Bourissau. Keeper Beloungea was succeeded by his son, also named Louis, who had been serving as his first assistant for several years. In 1919, Keeper Beloungea and Second Assistant Keeper August Keeler rendered assistance to the occupant of a motor boat attached to Squaw Island Lighthouse and provided a sail so he could make his way back home. Keeper Beloungea was awarded an efficiency flag for having the model station in the district during 1923.
The fog signal at Skillagalee was changed from a steam whistle to an air diaphone in 1933, and in 1951, the station’s light was electrified. In 1959, the station was converted to unattended operation, and a 175mm automatic lens was installed in the tower in place of the Fresnel lens. The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Sundew, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Leonard Garrett, was sent to the island in 1969 to demolish all the structures on the island save the 1888 brick tower. The keeper’s dwelling was dynamited, and all of the debris was heaped up and set on fire.
In June of 2011, Ile Aux Galets Lighthouse was declared excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard and made available to eligible organizations under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Qualified entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest and were required to obtain a conveyance from the State of Michigan for the bottomlands on which the lighthouse stands. If no suitable organization is found, the lighthouse will be sold at auction.
Located on a tiny island 7 miles northwest of Cross Village. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.