|Waugoshance Shoal Lighthouse||Seeing The Light|
As an interim measure, the wooden vessel LOIS MCLANE, which had been converted into a lightship, was placed on Waugoshance Shoal in 1832, thus taking her place in history as the first lighthouse to serve on all the Great Lakes.
In 1850, the decision was made to construct a more permanent light on the shoal, and work began with the construction of a timber crib on St. Helena Island. The crib was then towed to Waugoshance and sunk in place through the addition of large rocks. A cofferdam was then constructed around the crib, and the water pumped out, exposing the surface of the shoal. Cement was then applied to the surface of the shoal in order to create a smooth, flat base on which to build. Pre-dressed limestone slabs, each weighing close to twelve tons were set on the cement foundation, and bolted to the cement and each other. Finally, a circle of solid masonry was laid, enlarging the crib to a size of forty-eight by sixty-six feet.
Atop this crib, the brick tower rose to a height of seventy-six feet. Twenty feet in diameter at the base, with walls five feet in thickness, the tower tapered to a diameter of twelve feet at its uppermost, at which point the walls tapered to two feet in thickness. At its completion in 1851, the tower was crowned with a large "bird cage" style lantern room, one of only three lighthouses to be equipped with this style of lantern room in all of the Great Lakes. The lantern was equipped with the first Fourth Order Fresnel lens to be installed in any Great Lakes lighthouse. Displaying a fixed white light, varied by a white flash every 45 seconds, the light impressive French optic was visible to mariners at a distance of sixteen miles.
Exposed as it was to the full fury of Lake Michigan and to the great breaking fields of ice every spring, the crib began to deteriorate. Reacting to this deterioration in 1865, the Lighthouse Board appropriated the funds required to make the repairs necessary to ensure the station's continued structural integrity, and quickly completed the work.
While the repairs of 1865 were considerable in their scope, they were no match for the relentless fury of the lake, and by the late 1880's the crib and the soft brick of the tower had once again deteriorated to the point where major repairs were needed.
In order to effect the most nearly permanent repair possible with the technology available, the decision was made encase the entire structure in 3/8" thick boiler plate, riveted together, and leaving sufficient space between the iron and the masonry for filling with a layer of concrete. Bids were let for the contract on July 1, 1883, Buhl Iron Works Company of Detroit was the lowest bidder at $23,000, and was thus awarded the contract for the work.
Measurements were taken of the entire
Waugoshance structure, and each piece of the iron armor was custom bent
and punched at the Buhl shops. By the time the components were ready for
shipment to the site, over 24,000 rivet holes had been punched in the
form-fitting iron skin. All-told, 136,000 pounds of iron, 120 barrels of
Portland cement, 350 barrels of sand, 20,000 bricks, fifty barrels of
lime, two forty-two foot long boilers, two fog signal engines, and all
the hardware and supplies for the crew were loaded-up on vessels and
shipped to the site.
By the end of the 1880's the size of
the vessels plying the Great Lakes was increasing. These larger vessels,
drawing more water, began entering the Straits of Mackinac at a point
approximately four miles further North, in an area of deeper water. The
White Shoal reef sat perilously close to this new passage, and in 1878, the Chicago Lumbering Company
stationed an old derelict
vessel over White Shoal to warn mariners of the danger lurking a few
feet beneath the waves.
The WARRINGTON delivered the work party to the shoal on May 21, and work on the shoal began in earnest. through May, 27,000 board feet of old lumber framing timber and 33 cords of stone was removed from the old crib and pier. In June 155,000 board feet of old timber were removed, and 1,712 feet of new timber installed. Over the summer, the steel casings for the new enlarged pier were set up, and 205 cords of ballast stone were poured into the structure, and 65 yards of concrete were poured. Unfortunately, over most of the summer, many weeks were lost while the tender and work crew waited-out passing storms back at camp on St. Helena. Finally, on October 10, the work was completed, and the crews left Waugoshance to the keepers and the birds.
In October 1891 the Lighthouse Board stationed Lightship LV56 on White Shoal. Built earlier that year by the Blythe-Craig Shipbuilding Company in Toledo, she was one of three identical vessels commissioned in that year to serve in the area of the Straits.
The massive work of 1896 was not to be long lived, as the tender Alice M. Gill arrived at the shoal in 1902, and assisted a working party in the the reconstruction of the west corner of the protecting pier, which had begun deteriorating significantly. In an attempt to protect the pier from the destructive force of the waves, this corner of the pier was filled-in with concrete and ballast stone, and faced with 3/8" iron plating.
As a result of the ferocity of spring and fall storms, the viable working season for lightships was a few months shorter than that of lighthouses. Thus, in order to provide maximum protection in the area, the decision was made to establish a permanent light station on White Shoal, and construction was begun in 1908 and completed in 1910.
With the commissioning of the larger and more powerful White Shoals light a few miles to the north, Waugoshance Light became redundant, and was thus decommissioned in 1912.
The Waugoshance Light sat undisturbed by all but the forces of nature until the early 1940s, when with the breakout of World War II, hotshot flyboys decided that the old lighthouse would make a perfect target for bombing practice during their military pilot training. Apparently a number of missiles hit their target, as a massive fire broke out on the structure, completely gutting the interior of the tower and keepers dwelling of anything combustible.
In early 1983, the bullet-riddled boilerplate shell began to peel from the structure, once again exposing the soft brick to the elements. Over the intervening years, the entire casing has fallen into the lake. Anything of value remaining after the strafing exercises has been either removed or destroyed by vandals. The copper roof of the birdcage lantern is long-gone. Even the heavy cast iron stairs within the tower having been taken by some enterprising lawbreaker with no respect for history. In a perverse sense, the removal of the stairs has turned out to be somewhat of a blessing, for without the stairs, nobody has yet been able to scale the tower and destroy what remains of the lantern room.
This same year, the Coast Guard surveyed the structure, and recommended that it be declared surplus and demolished in order to prevent injury.
In 2000, the Waugoshance Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed, with it's charter being the eventual complete restoration of the structure. The Coast Guard has authorized the W.L.P.S to raise the funds to secure the presently standing structure while a long term lease is drawn up, giving the Society temporary ownership, for the restoration process. The Society has a huge task ahead of it, and will need all of the help they can get in order to successfully carry off the restoration.
Meanwhile, Waugoshance Light silently
waits, guarding the shoal as it has for almost one hundred and fifty years.
While obviously bedraggled and sickly, the pride of this once majestic
structure can still be sensed.
PO Box 250