A light-house at Granite island, off Marquette, is also much needed. This island, two and a half acres in extent, is a granite rock, rising almost perpendicularly out of the lake, (Superior,) with good water all around it. The Marquette light cannot be seen by vessels coming from Portage until they are almost abreast of the light and have passed Granite island, which is directly in their track. A light-house with proper fog-signal would greatly facilitate navigation at night and during thick weather.
The lighthouse was built of rough-cut granite blocks, taken from the Huron Islands, with cut limestone being used as quoins on the structure’s corners and as lintels above and below the doors and windows. The lighthouse’s ten-foot-square tower stands forty feet tall and is attached to the northern gable of the eight-room, one-and-half-story keeper’s dwelling. A fixed, fourth-order Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens was installed atop a cast-iron pedestal in the tower’s decagonal lantern, along with three flash panels that revolved around the lens atop nine chariot wheels. Equipped with ruby glass screens, the flash-panel assembly completed a revolution every four-and-a-half minutes and helped create the unique characteristic of a fixed white light interrupted every ninety seconds by a red flash. The light, which had a focal plane of ninety feet, was placed in operation at the opening of the 1869 season.
On August 30, 1872, fifty-seven-year-old Isaac P. Bridges, the first keeper of Granite Island Lighthouse, drowned while traveling to his home. His family saw his boat capsize but could not do anything to assist him.
Granite Island, situated twelve-and-a-half miles north of Marquette, was now clearly marked during clear nights, but it still remained a “serious obstruction to navigation” during thick or foggy weather. The Lighthouse Board proposed a fog signal for the island in 1870, but it wasn’t until 1879 that the fog bell from Thunder Bay Island, made unnecessary by a steam whistle, was relocated to Granite Island. The 1,500-pound bell, cast by J. Bernhard & Co. of Philadelphia, was hung in a skeletal frame tower that was fifteen feet square at its base and nine-and-a-half feet at its top, which was enclosed to house the striking apparatus. The original wooden bell tower was replaced in 1910 by the present metal tower, fabricated by Champion Iron Co. of Kenton, Ohio.
An oil house with a capacity of 500 gallons was erected on the island in 1905 using concrete blocks poured at the lighthouse depot in Detroit.
William H. Wheatley was appointed head keeper of Granite Island Lighthouse in 1885, after having served two years as keeper of Green Island Lighthouse in Wisconsin and one year as second assistant keeper at Huron Island Lighthouse. James Wheatley was hired to serve as his son’s assistant at Granite Island, shortly after William Wheatley took charge of the station. In 1893, William Wheatley was transferred to Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, and his father was promoted to head keeper of Granite Island. On April 30, 1898, William Wheatley was fishing north of Marquette, not far from Granite Island, when his boat capsized in a squall, and he drowned.
Shortly after Assistant Keeper John McMartin launched the station’s boat on October 2, 1903 for a trip to Marquette, a fresh wind caught the vessel and sent it smashing against the island’s rocky shore. McMartin plunged into the icy water and drowned. A few days later, the steamer Marigold brought a replacement boat to the island, and Anna Carlson, wife of the keeper of Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, filled in as assistant keeper until a permanent one was appointed.
James Wheatley served as keeper at Granite Island through at least 1913 and passed away in Marquette on June 15, 1915 at the age of eighty-two.
Grant Kirkendall spent summers on Granite Island while his father, John Kirkendall, served as assistant keeper under John McDonald, the last head keeper of Granite Island Lighthouse. Grant recorded some of his memories from Granite Island:
Dad was always thinking of different kinds of amusements. One thing I remember was the toad picnic. He’d lay out a sheet of flypaper on the ground and then collected a bunch of toads and set them around the paper. Of course, the paper drew flies and the toads had a feast.
He cleaned out a rock pool alongside the launchway for Romayne [Grant’s sister] and I to wade in. I had a vivid imagination. One time, I’m not sure why, but I thought I saw some kind of animal in the pool and I wouldn’t go near it. There must have been a rock sticking up that I took to be the animal’s head.
When the Amaranth came, the coal for the furnace had to be carried up the stairs from the dock to the house in canvas bags. They’d dump each bag in the coal bin and then go down to refill them. It was a long process. All the supplies had to be carried up those stairs.
On August 26, 1914, the characteristic of Granite Island Light became fixed white with a red flash every sixty seconds, and the intensity of the light was increased by changing the illuminant to oil vapor. In order to automate the station, the light was changed from oil vapor to acetylene in 1937, with a new characteristic of a white flash every fifteen seconds, and the fog signal was changed “from mechanical to chemical control striker and made automatic.” The carbon-dioxide-powered fog bell was discontinued in 1943, and the light’s characteristic was changed to a white flash every five seconds.
Of the eighty-five bids submitted, Scott Holman’s bid of $86,003 was the highest. The second-highest offer was $80,000, while the low bid was just $11. While attending Northern Michigan University in the late 1950s, Holman dove shipwrecks around Granite Island and was thus very familiar with the lighthouse. Holman later founded Bay Cast, a steel castings suppliers, and served as director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society for several years.
Holman couldn’t find a contractor in Marquette that would touch the lighthouse restoration job. He ferried several out to the island on April 27, 2000, but none were interested. Eventually, Holman hired Stan Stenson, a carpenter from the village of Covington, who assembled a special team for the project. The lighthouse had a hole in the roof when the work started in 2000, but over the next two-and-a-half years the team transformed the structure into a thing a beauty, while camping on the island in tents.
The restoration work carried out at Granite Island included replacing the water-damaged plaster walls with sheetrock, crafting new historically-accurate windows and doors, rewiring the lighthouse and connecting it to wind generators and solar panels, and repairing the island’s walkways and 400 steps. Holman made hundreds of trips ferrying contractors to and from the island, and the total repair bill was in the six figures. “I’m telling you this, you cannot restore a lighthouse with bake sales,” Holman said. “I can never get over the fact that they built this whole darn thing in one summer, and it took me two-and-a-half summers to repair it with all the materials and technology we have today.”