Home Maps Resources Calendar About
Resources Calendar About
Lake St. Clair, MI  Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.   

Select a photograph to view a photo gallery

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery


Lake St. Clair Lighthouse

On August 12, 1679, French explorer René Robert Cavalier gave Lake St. Clair its name as the date of its discovery coincided with the feast day of Saint Clare of Assisi. Together with St. Clair River and Detroit River, Lake St. Clair links Lake Huron to Lake Erie, but because it is seventeen times smaller than Lake Ontario, it is seldom included in a list of the Great Lakes. As Lake St. Clair has an average depth of just eleven feet, shipping channels had to be dredged across it and marked by navigational aids.

Radio-controlled St. Clair Lightship
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A privately built lightship was one of the early aids on the lake, and it was replaced in 1887 by lightship LV-10, a wooden scow built in 1878 that was converted into a lightship after having been used during the construction of Stannard Rock Lighthouse. LV-10 was retired in 1902 and replaced by LV-75, which was built by the Johnson Boiler Company at Ferrysburg, Michigan for a contract price of $14,998. This steel-hulled vessel was nearly eighty-four feet long, and had a beam of twenty-three feet and a draft of eight feet. The lightship was on station during the navigational season that typically ran from mid-March to early December, and since the vessel had no means of propulsion, it had to be towed to and from its station.

The federal lightship on Lake St. Clair was originally known as Grosse Pointe, since it was located just off Grosse Pointe at the southern end of the lake, but in 1911, it was moved farther north and renamed Lake St. Clair. After 1911, LV-75’s bright red hull featured “St. Clair” painted in big white letters on its sides. An oil light was displayed from atop the lightship’s single mast, and in times of poor visibility, a fog bell was rung by hand. Around 1930, the lightship was again moved to a position farther north in the lake.

After having faithfully served aboard Grosse Pointe Lightship for sixteen years, Joseph Desjardins was dismissed in 1909 for enjoying a Christmas Eve libation while technically being on duty, even though the lightship was docked and its light was not in operation. An inspector just happened to stop by and reported the infraction. A few years before this incident, Desjardins, known as “Little Joe” due to his short stature and square build, saw a yacht overturn in Lake St. Clair, spilling two men and four women into the water. Little Joe immediately set off in a rowboat braving high seas. As his small boat would only hold the four women, Joe told the two men to hold onto the gunwale and kick as he rowed back to the lightship. The six people that Joe saved from certain death wrote to Congressman Denby, requesting his help in having Joe reinstated.

“It seems to me very hard that after 27 years of faithful work I should lose my place in this way,” Joe said. “I have never neglected my duty. Some times in the summer I have not set foot on shore for three or four months. I have never been idle before and sometimes it seems to me as though I would go crazy. However, I hope for the best, and believe that justice will be done me.” It appears Desjardins was not reinstated as Arthur L. Myers is listed as Maser of LV-59 in 1911, and Desjardins was no longer a federal employee.

In the early 1930s, St. Clair Lightship was equipped with an acetylene light and a fog bell that tolled continuously so no crew had to be on board the vessel. This setup was improved in 1935 when LV-75 was outfitted with a system that permitted the keeper of the new St. Clair Flats Canal Range Light Station, located about eight miles away, to remotely control the ship’s light, fog signal, and radiobeacon. This was the first radio-controlled lightship in the United States and was located on one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. During the 1934 shipping season, 15,000 vessels passed the lightship. The radio-controlled ship was destined to have a short life, as just three years later, work began on a permanent structure to replace it. The foundation for St. Clair Lighthouse was erected in 1938 as a Public Works Administration project.

Lake St. Clair Lighthouse in 1941
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The following description of the new lighthouse was printed in the 1941 Annual Report of the Lake Carriers’ Association:
The newest light station upon the Great Lakes is the lake St. Clair Light Station …which completed its first season of operation with the beginning of the present winter, replacing the radio controlled lightship. This lighthouse is of interest because it is one of the series of new offshore lighthouses on the lakes, and because of the new trend in the development of automatic signaling equipment which it typifies. Like Detour Reef Lighthouse, the first of these offshore, deep-water lighthouses, Lake St. Clair Lighthouse has been constructed close enough to the actual track of vessels to be used as a leading light for both up and down-bound traffic. It is also an interesting step in the marking of this part of the channel through Lake St. Clair. Many years ago a privately maintained lightship marked the channel. In 1887, the Federal Government took over the task, and converted a scow into a lightship for the purpose. Lightship, No. 75, well known on this station, was placed on the lake in August, 1902, where it remained for about 35 years. Originally the ship was fitted only with reflector lights with oil as the illuminant.

In 1935, Lightship 75 was completely remodeled inside, and wholly automatic or remotely controlled apparatus installed. When it was again placed on station it had no crew, those signals not operating automatically being controlled by radio from a nearby station. The new lighthouse operates in substantially the same manner, but is a vast improvement as it is in service while floating aids are not in place in the ice period and there is never a doubt about its exact position with respect to the channel.

This new lighthouse, like those at Peshtigo Reef, Kewaunee, and Green Bay Angle, was built on a foundation of interlocking sheet steel piling forming a cylinder which was filled with stone and capped with concrete. In the construction of lighthouses on submarine sites on the lakes it has been the custom to surround the foundation with riprap to prevent scouring from currents. At Lake St. Clair the bottom was found so soft that an outer cribwork of timber was necessary to hold the riprap in place.

The capping of the foundation cylinder provided a main deck serving as a landing platform, above which rises the light tower. Below the tower and below the level of the main deck is a large compartment for the reception of fuel and other tanks, and above this are the machinery spaces. Here are located the engine generators and all control apparatus for the operation of the signals.

The light tower is constructed of steel plates and places the light itself at a point 52 feet above the level of the lake. The illuminating apparatus is a 375 millimeter lens inside which is an electric incandescent lamp. Above the lantern rises the antenna for the radiobeacons.

The fog signal is a compressed-air operated diaphragm horn, remotely controlled by radio from the Lake St. Clair Flats Light Station 8 ½ miles away. The station was placed in commission on June 18, 1941.

In 1954, the lighthouse’s fog signal was changed from a diaphragm horn to a bell. A remote weather station operated on St. Clair Lighthouse for several years, but it was disestablished on May 16, 2011.

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Annual Report of the Lake Carriers’ Association, various years.
  4. “Fired for Jag; Friends Rally,” Detroit Free Press, February 20, 1909.

Copyright © 2001- Lighthousefriends.com
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.
email Kraig