|Squaw Island Lighthouse||Seeing The Light|
To warn mariners making the passage, Congress appropriated the sum of $25,000 to establish a light station on the island on March 3, 1891. The Lighthouse Board began negotiations for the purchase of land on the island immediately, and on June 23rd issued contracts for the construction of the fog signal equipment specified in the station plans.
While the necessary equipment arrived at the Detroit Depot on September 1st, construction on the island did not start until the following spring, when the lighthouse engineer's tender Amaranth anchored offshore, and off-loaded a work crew who shuttled the tons of material to the shore. With the materials unloaded, the Amaranth steamed off to work on other projects.
The station's plans called for the construction of a brick main building with an integrated octagonal tower, capped with a prefabricated cast iron lantern. As work progressed through the summer, the station complex took shape with the addition of a fog signal building, oil storage house, two-seater outhouse, wood-framed barn and well head building. The fog signal building was equipped with a duplicate set of steam-powered 10-inch steam whistles to be used during thick weather. The installation of duplicate systems ensured that one of the two units would always be available to scream its warning across the lake to mariners making their way through the passage.
Finally, cribs were constructed on the east side of the island to support a landing dock for the use of the keepers and the delivery of supplies. A wood-railed track was laid connecting the dock with the main building and the fog signal, and a small rail car was installed on the track for use in the movement of oil, coal and other supplies from the dock to the appropriate buildings in which they were used.
Amaranth returned to the island later that summer to deliver the district lampist, whose task it was to install and adjust the new Fourth Order Fresnel lens, which had been custom-manufactured for the station in Paris. The red lens rotated around the lamp, and equipped with bullseye panels was designed to make the light appear to flash a bright red every fifteen seconds. Thus, adjustment of the lens's clockwork rotational mechanism was critical to ensure a precise speed of rotation.
Work on the island was completed on September 16th, when the Amaranth returned to return the work crew and left over supplies to the lighthouse depot. William H. Shields was appointed as the station's head keeper, and on the evening of October 10th, 1892, Shields climbed the cast iron stairs within the tower and exhibited the light for the first time.
Over the next two years, it became plain that the dwelling was too small for both the head keeper and assistant keeper and their families. In 1894 the answer came in the form of the tender Amaranth, which again delivered a work crew and materials to the island to convert the original barn into a separate dwelling. On completion, Shields moved into the converted barn, and his assistant lived on the second floor of the main building, with the first floor being used as a common area for cooking and washing purposes.
On December 14, at the close of the 1900 navigation season, Shields, his wife, assistant keeper Owen C. McCauley, 2nd assistant Lucien F. Morden and Shield's niece Lucy Davis loaded their belongings in the station's 25-foot sailboat and set sail to winter on Beaver Island. An unexpected storm rolled-in, and capsized their sailboat, tossing all five into the icy water. Morden and both women quickly perished, however Shields and McCauley somehow managed to survive the night, to be rescued the following day by the steamer MANHATTAN. As a result of the disaster, Shields lost a leg, and after recovery was transferred to "lighter" duty at the lighthouse depot in Charlevoix.
McCauley faired somewhat better, and was promoted to the position of head keeper at Squaw Island at the opening of the 1901 navigation season.
With construction of the Lansing Shoal light station offshore in 1928, the Squaw Island light was deemed obsolete, and the station was abandoned. With the closing of Squaw Island, McCauley was transferred to St. Joseph Light, where he served as head keeper until his retirement in April 1935. McCauley passed away in St. Joseph in 1958.
Abandoned, the buildings quickly began
to deteriorate. Vandals arrived on the island to unleash their
destructive stupidity and with the windows and doors broken out birds
and bats roosted and nested throughout the building. Squaw Island passed into private
ownership, and on behalf of the current owners, Bernie Hellstrom has
spent a great deal of the past ten years stabilizing and restoring
the station's buildings to prevent their loss to posterity.