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 Granite Island, MI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: In 1863, a committee was dispatched to the Great Lakes to determine the necessity of a few newly proposed lighthouses and the desirability of re-establishing discontinued lights. While examining these predetermined sites, the committee also noted the need for additional lights on Lake Superior to support the growing copper and iron ore trade of the Keweenaw Peninsula. One of these additional lights was proposed for Granite Island, and in 1866 the Lighthouse Board requested $20,000 for the light, after providing the following information:
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.

Granite Island in 1913 - note landing derrick
Photograph courtesy National Archives
Congress provided the requested amount on March 2, 1867, and a deed to the entire island was obtained on April 16, 1868 from the State of Michigan, which had to procure the island from its private owner by condemnation. The recently acquired Haze, the first steam propeller-driven lighthouse tender to serve the Great Lakes, delivered the construction materials to Granite Island shortly after the opening of the 1868 navigation season. A landing platform was built on the island, ten feet above the water, and from there track was laid to the top of the island, which had to be blasted away to create a suitable place for the lighthouse.

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 minute 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 dangerous hazard 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.

Postcard showing Granite Island with boathouse
Photograph courtesy Archives of Michigan
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.

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.” The carbon-dioxide-powered fog bell was discontinued in 1943, and the light’s characteristic was changed to a white flash every five seconds.

Granite Island Lighthouse, which had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, was sold by sealed bid on October 19, 1999. Melissa Green, the General Services Administration officer in charge of selling the island, noted that appraisers hadn’t been able to determine the worth of the island. “It’s like trying to price an acre of land on the moon, there’s no comparison basis,” she said. Stephen Lyons, chief warrant officer for the Coast Guard in Marquette, seemed to have an idea of what he thought the island was worth. “It’s a rock in the middle of the water with a building that’s in bad shape. I don’t know what somebody would do with it.”

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.

The restoration work carried out at Granite Island included replacing the water-damaged plaster walls with sheetrock, 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.”

Head Keepers: Isaac P. Bridges (1868 – 1872), David Campan (1872 – 1873), Samuel L. Barney (1873), Isaac Wilson (1873 – 1880), Rebuen Frink (1880 – 1885), William H. Wheatley (1885 – 1893), James Wheatley (1893 – 1915), John L. Dufrain (1915), Ralph Heater (1915 – at least 1917), Hans A. Robinson (at least 1919 - at least 1921), John McDonald (1928 – 1938).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5 6

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Lake Carriers’ Association, various years.
  3. “With Keepers Obsolete, Lighthouse Duties Fall to New Set of Stewards,” Susan Saulny, The New York Times, August 14, 2010.
  4. “Wanna buy a lighthouse?,” Stars and Stripes, October 12, 1999.

Links:
Granite Island Light Station

Location: Located on Lake Superior's Granite Island, 12.5 miles north of Marquette.
Latitude: 46.720889
Longitude: -87.412667

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


Travel Instructions: The best views of Granite Island Lighthouse come from the water near the island.

The island and lighthouse are privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.

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