|St. Clair Flats Range, MI|
Description: Having been appointed by the Board of Navy Commissioners to examine and select lighthouse sites in the Great Lakes, Lieutenant G.J. Pendergrast embarked on a lengthy voyage during the summer of 1837 and included the following on Lake St. Clair in his report:
At its head, [Lake St. Clair] becomes very shoal, particularly at the mouth of St. Clair river, where extensive flats make out, on which there is but ten feet water. The channel is exceedingly crooked for three or four miles, and in some places very narrow. These flats are dreaded by all persons, and are regarded as the most vexatious impediments they have to encounter. Vessels have been known to be two, and even three weeks in getting over them.
At the time the range lights were built, St. Clair River emptied into Lake St. Clair through seven principal mouths, and the range was built to mark the South Channel, which was the most used. The rear range light consisted of a cylindrical tower connected to a two-story dwelling by a covered passageway. Built with yellow brick, this lighthouse stood on a pier foundation, and its fourth-order fixed white light shone from a height of thirty-seven feet above the pier and forty-four feet above the lake. The front tower, also known as the beacon light, was constructed of yellow brick on a pier located 1,000 feet south west of the rear light. A sixth-order Fresnel lens installed in the lantern room of the front tower produced a fixed white light at a height of twenty-three feet above the pier and twenty-eight feet above the lake.
In 1867, the Lighthouse Board noted that the timber crib for the rear light had settled some, but that “no damage of any importance” was expected as a result. Two years later, the Board reported that the settling cribs had indeed led to some damage as both towers were “slightly cracked” and the plastering of the dwelling was off in several places. Making repairs, however, was not deemed important as a cut across the flats was being dredged nearby and $60,000 had been appropriated for range lights to mark the new improved channel.
In 1899, the lighthouse tender Amaranth delivered materials for rebuilding the boathouse on each pier and for repointing and cement-washing the exterior of both towers and the dwelling. The entire superstructure of the rear foundation crib was rebuilt and its deck planking renewed. Ten iron plates that protected the crib were taken off, straightened, and then put back in place.
St. Clair Flats Range was discontinued at the close of navigation in 1907, but on August 27, 1915, the range was re-established with the front light showing a white flash every second, and the rear light displaying a white light that was alternately on for one second and off for one second. By 1921, only small craft and tugs towing rafts were using the old channel as it had a depth of only twelve feet. The range lights were discontinued in 1934, and the dwelling at the rear light was torn down around this time.
While boating with his wife on Lake St. Clair in 1989, Chuck Brockman noted the poor condition of the range lights and thought that someone should really do something about that. Later that year, Brockman helped form Save Our South Channel Lights, (SOSCL) a non-profit, all-volunteer organization, focused on protecting and restoring the range lights. The group originally proposed a three-phase plan. First, the front tower, which was leaning and in danger of toppling over, would be secured and protected with a new foundation. Second, the rear light would receive a new foundation, and third, the keeper’s dwelling would be rebuilt.
In 1990, a temporary seawall was built around the threatened front tower, and the interior space was filled with limestone to shore-up the eroded foundation. This stop-gap measured succeeded in saving the front tower until a permanent seawall, measuring forty-two by forty-nine feet, was completed in 1996.
Armed with matching grants from the State Historic Preservation Office and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and over $100,000 of its own money, SOSCL awarded a $599,000 contract to Mihm Enterprises in 2005 to build a new arrowhead-shaped foundation around the rear tower and rehabilitate the lighthouse. In recognition of this restorative work, SOSCL and Mihm Enterprises were given the 2009 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation. A white fence was installed around the perimeter of the rear tower’s foundation in 2008 as part of an Eagle Scout project. Evidence of the much improved state of the rear lighthouse is the fact that two weddings were held on its grounds in 2011.
It took Brockman nearly twenty years to get the lighthouses to a state where they are in fair condition and protected from winter ice floes, but he and his organization aren’t done yet. “You want to finish what you started,” Brockman said. “You know how they say, ‘If I knew then what I know now?’ Well, now I know, but there's nothing I can do but finish it.”
The front tower is once again an active aid to navigation, showing a white flash every four seconds.
Head Keepers: Michael Jackson (1859 – 1861), Daniel McQueen (1861 – 1863), John B. Kendall (1863 – 1865), Edward G. Warner (1865 – 1873), Jabez Geer (1873 – 1878), Stephen A. Warner (1878 – 1895), Samuel F. Rogers (1895 – 1896), John Duffy (1896 – 1899), John Sinclair, Jr. (1899 – 1905).
Located in Lake St. Clair, 0.7 miles west of the southern tip of Harsens Island. The lights are owned by Save Our South Channel Lights. Towers closed.
The lights are owned by Save Our South Channel Lights. Towers closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Wilfried Kalinowski, Charlotte Blake, Kraig Anderson, used by permission.