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 DeTour Reef, MI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Volunteer keeper program offered.
Description: The easternmost point of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was called “Giwideonaning” by the Chippewa, meaning the “point we go around in a canoe,” but it is “detour,” a French word meaning the “bend” or “curve,” that is used in the point’s modern name: DeTour Point.

DeTour Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy National Archives
When James T. Homans sailed the Great Lakes in 1838 inspecting sites for new lighthouses, he made the following observation on the need for a light at DeTour Point to mark the mouth of the St. Marys River.

This river, (or, properly, strait,) connecting lakes Huron and Superior, is navigable for vessels of the largest class in use on the lakes, as far up as the falls, and within a mile of the junction with lake Superior. Steamboats of 600 tons burden have traversed the waters of this strait to Sault Ste. Marie. The gross amount of tonnage arriving at the Sault, in the year 1837, was 2,505 tons; and this year, prior to the 22d of September, 3,304 tons: showing a large increase from the previous season. One-fourth of this amount was from lake Superior.

When the proposed ship canal (already commenced) shall be completed around the falls of St. Mary, a large trade will be opened with the fisheries, minerals, and other valuable productions of lake Superior and its borders. The statement of the commerce annually afloat on this stream, will, I trust, justify me in recommending the erection of a lighthouse near its entrance into lake Huron; the best site for which I judged to be on the left-hand point on entering, where the ground is favorable, and can be farthest seen by vessels on the lake.

On March 3, 1847, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse at DeTour Point, and later that year a conical, stone tower, with a height of fifty-seven feet was built on the west side on the entrance to Saint Marys River along with a stone one-and-a-half-story dwelling. Thirteen lamps set in fourteen-inch reflectors were used atop the tower to produce a fixed white light until a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern room in 1857.

In 1850, Henry B. Miller inspected the lighthouse and recommended that a “hard finish” be applied to the tower and melted lead be used to caulk the crevices between the stones in the lantern room deck to make the structure watertight, but by 1859 the tower had deteriorated to the point that it had to be rebuilt.
Placing rocks in crib, July 1930
Photograph courtesy National Archives
A contract for an iron pile lighthouse for DeTour Point was entered into in 1860, and this tower was finished in the spring of 1861, along with similar ones built at Whitefish Point and Manitou Island on Lake Superior.

The new DeTour Point Lighthouse stood seventy-eight feet tall and consisted of four levels of iron braces around a central, cylindrical shaft that ran from the top of the first level to the watchroom, situated just below the lantern room. The braces of the first level were vertical and placed at the corners of a twenty-six-foot square, while the upper three levels slope inward. The second floor of a new dwelling was attached to the tower by a covered passage. A spiral staircase inside the central shaft provided access to a decagonal watchroom and lantern room, each of which were encircled by a gallery.

The fourth-order lens from the old lighthouse was transferred to the new one in 1861 and served until it was replaced by a third-order lens that went into service with the opening of navigation in 1871. In 1902, the Lighthouse Board noted that a change in the light at DeTour was needed “to make it more conspicuous and also more definite,” and requested funds for a new lens. Congress appropriated $4,000 for a lens on March 3, 1905, and the light from a third-and-a-half-order, Barbier, Benard, & Turenne Fresnel lens was exhibited from DeTour Lighthouse for the first time on May 12, 1908. The lens had four flash-panels and revolved every forty seconds to produce bright white flashes, spaced by ten seconds. In June 1909, the illuminant was changed to incandescent oil vapor, increasing the intensity of the light sevenfold.

A ten-inch steam whistle was established at the station in 1872, and in 1877 a second whistle was added as a backup. The signature of the whistle was an eight-second blast every minute, but in 1901 a second signature was added to inform mariners of conditions on the St. Marys River. When both the river and lake were foggy, the original signature was used, but if the lake were foggy and the river clear, the whistle would sound in this manner: eight-second blast, two seconds silence, three-second blast, forty-seven seconds silence. In 1906, a brick fog signal, measuring twenty-two by forty feet, was built to house the steam whistles, and the dwelling was converted into a duplex.

As an additional aid to mariners, an electrically operated submarine bell was placed offshore from the lighthouse in 1907, but when it was found that the bell was in a “hollow,” it was moved 1,700 feet farther out in the lake in 1909. In its new location, the bell, which was suspended inside a twenty-one-foot-tall tripod, was situated twenty-eight feet below the surface of the lake. Originally built and maintained by the Submarine Signal Company, the bell was purchased by the government in 1911.

DeTour Reef Lighthouse nearing completion in 1931
Photograph courtesy National Archives
The importance of DeTour Point for mariners was further emphasized in 1925, when a radiobeacon was established there on October 9 and its fog signal was upgraded to a powerful air diaphone on November 16. The submarine bell was discontinued on June 15, 1927, and in 1929, the radiobeacon and diaphone were synchronized to allow mariners to readily determine their distance from the point “by noting the time interval which elapses between the reception of the radio and sound fog signals.”

In 1928, the Bureau of Lighthouses requested funds to establish a modern lighthouse on DeTour Reef and relocate the light, fog signal, and radiobeacon there from the point, while maintaining the onshore residence for the keepers’ families. Placing the navigational aids closer to the track of vessels would reduce the number of casualties caused by ships running aground on the reef.

After having been constructed onshore, a sixty-foot-square and twenty-foot-high wooden crib was towed a mile offshore and sunk on a prepared site in twenty-four feet of water on July 25, 1930. The crib was then filled with rock and concrete, and a portion of its concrete pier was poured before it was marked with a temporary light and work was suspended for the season. Work resumed on April 25, 1931, and the concrete pier, which contained vaulted rooms for storage and machinery, was extended to twenty feet above the lake. An eight-and-a-half-foot-wide steel band was placed at the waterline to protect the pier from ice, and the top of the pier was flared out by two feet to prevent the pier’s deck from being washed by seas.

The following description of the superstructure built atop the pier was published by the Lighthouse Service:

Upon this deck was erected the lighthouse proper, which was constructed of steel and cast iron throughout, backed up by solid masonry. The first two stories of the structure are 30 feet square, the second story forming the living quarters for the three keepers and the first story forming the upper part of the engine room and machinery space. With the exception of radio transmitting equipment, clock controls, etc., the machinery is all located at the basement floor level, 8 feet 6 inches above water level. This room is made considerably larger than the superstructure by vaulted spaces within the pier lighted both from the windows in the first story above and from deck lights in the pier proper. Radio transmitting equipment is located on the first floor gallery.

A square tower rises from this 2-story structure supporting a 3 1/2-order revolving lens, the focal plane of which is 74 feet above the water level. The lens, lantern, and watch room from the old shore structure were utilized, as was also the fog-signal engines and equipment from shore. The same characteristics and candlepower were retained.

Aerial view of DeTour Reef Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy National Archives
DeTour Reef Lighthouse, which cost $144,976, was placed in operation on November 10, 1931, with the land-based keepers relocating to the offshore station.

While the Coast Guard took charge of all lighthouses in the country in 1939, DeTour Reef Lighthouse retained a civilian head keeper until 1962, when Charles Jones, who had been filling this role for twenty-two years, retired. Marvin Kurkierewicz of Drummond Island spent two stints at the lighthouse, from 1963 to 1964 and from 1971, and remembers one late-season storm that left an indelible impression. The lake was so rough that a chunk of ice was thrown on top of the deck taking a crane used to lift supplies and boats up to the lighthouse. Fortunately, the lighthouse was equipped with a second crane on the opposite corner of the pier.

The lighthouse was automated in 1974, and in 1978, its Fresnel lens was dismantled and replaced with a modern optic. The Fresnel lens can be seen at the DeTour Passage Historical Museum in DeTour Village, while the station’s diaphone fog signal is located at the Drummond Island Historical Museum. Jeff Laser retrieved the fog horn from a storeroom at the Great Lakes Historical Society in 1998 and restored it to working order.

The DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society was established in 1998, and two years later, it signed a twenty-year lease with the Coast Guard allowing it restore DeTour Reef Lighthouse. Major restoration was completed in 2004 with over a million dollars in funding from federal, state, and private grant entities, and public donations. Public tours of this unique offshore maritime monument are now being offered along with opportunities to serve as resident keepers.

In 2004, the DeTour Reef Lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. The DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society submitted an application for the lighthouse and was awarded ownership in 2005, but the official transfer was delayed due to the State of Michigan requiring a bottomlands lease for any owner besides the federal government. The bottomlands agreement was too cumbersome for the society to accept, but after years of negotiations and threatened legal action, an acceptable agreement was finally worked out between the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance. During the Great Lakes Lighthouse Preservation Conference held in June 2010, ceremonies were held to transfer DeTour Reef Lighthouse to the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society.

Head Keepers: James Stevens (1848 – 1849), John Stanart (1849 – 1863), Amos Stiles (1863 – 1865), Benoni LaChance (1865 - 1866), John Riggs (1866 – 1870), George Thurston (1870 – 1874), Oliver Robins (at least 1875), George Thurston (at least 1879), Frank Borissau ( at least 1883 – at least 1887), Walter G. Marshall (1888 – 1898), William L. Campbell (1902 – 1910), Frank G. Sommer (1911 – 1920), Nelson Abear (1921 - ), Joseph Metivier (at least 1930), W. S. Hall (at least 1931 – at least 1933), John M. Sweet (at least 1935 – at least 1938), Charles Jones (1940 – 1962).

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. DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society website.
  5. "Keeping the Light On: DeTour Preservation Society Delves Into Lighthouse's History," Josh Perttunen, The St. Ignace News, September 30, 2010.

Location: Located in Lake Huron, just south of the entrance to the St. Mary's River.
Latitude: 45.94918
Longitude: -83.90329

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


Travel Instructions: The lighthouse is best seen by boat. Reasonably good views would be possible from land, as the lighthouse is less than a mile offshore, but the road that leads to the closest point (Lighthouse Road) is blocked by a gate.

In 2005, the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society started offering lighthouse tours and an overnight keeper program. Visitors to the lighthouse must be physically capable of climbing and descending a 20-foot ladder to reach the lighthouse deck. During ascent and descent of the ladder, each person will wear a safety harness which requires visitors to be at least 50 inches tall and weigh less than 300 pounds. Please note for safety reasons, children under 12 are not allowed on the tour.

The Fresnel lens from the lighthouse is on display at the DeTour Passage Historical Museum in DeTour Village.

The lighthouse is owned by the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society. Tower open during tours.

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