Eagle Harbor museum recalls the days of lifesaving service

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette To honor the men of the Live Saving Service, and their families, the Keweenaw County Historical Society has opened a Life-Saving Station Museum at the marina in Eagle Harbor, in the old Life Saving Station boathouse. The museum now displays all the early wooden rescue boats used by the U.S. Life Saving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard.

EAGLE HARBOR — The Keweenaw County Historical Society’s Life Saving Museum recently hosted its annual open house to welcome the public to explore an aspect of local history often overlooked: Maritime lifesaving service of the 20th century.

Mark Rowe, maritime chairman for the museum, said the museum’s goal is to show the public original human-powered boats and equipment used in going out into gale-force storms that destroyed ships to rescue the crews.

The museum has artifacts from the time before the Life Saving Service became the Coast Guard, including two lifesaving boats from the days before they were equipped with engines. The facility also has a later model that was equipped with a small gasoline engine.

Rowe said the main focus has been to continue developing the museum little by little.

“Every year, we accomplish something,” he said.

A number of years ago, the state of Michigan put a new roof on the boathouse. Several years ago, the committee applied for a grant and received funding to refurbish the original catwalks leading from the boathouse to the water, and recently, new ones have also been installed.

The museum also has a fully-restored 26-foot-long surf boat that was originally from Whitefish Point, Rowe said. It has been fully restored, and can be launched and rowed in the future. The early 20th century surf boat was man-powered, and was also equipped to raise a mast for a small sail.

In contrast to man-powered boats and equipment, visitors were able to experience modern lifesaving equipment in the form of a U.S. Coast Guard 47-foot, diesel-powered life boat, stationed at Station Portage in Dollar Bay.

Rowe said bit by bit, the museum is moving forward, and the annual open house is just one way of celebrating those men who risked their lives to venture in the the high swells and crashing waves to rescue ship crews in distress.

Rowe said one of the life saving museum committee members has been working on an important project that has so far resulted in great returns. Barb Koski has conducted extended research on the descendants of the Eagle Harbor Life Saving Station, Rowe said, and as a result, the museum has been able to acquire memorabilia, photographs, medals, and other items people would otherwise never see. Koski’s project has also helped those descendants understand what they their grandfathers or other relatives did in the service.

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