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Fixing the lighthouse

September 22, 2012
By Stacey Kukkonen ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

COPPER HARBOR - Several years into the project, the nonprofit organization working to restore the Gull Rock Lighthouse in Copper Harbor had a productive summer.

"It's going very well," said Peter Annin, volunteer executive director of Gull Rock Lightkeepers. "We've had one of the most exciting summers we've ever had in restoring the lighthouse."

So far this summer, the restoration has included replacing the subfloors throughout the lighthouse, which supports the surface floors.

"The lighthouse went through extensive periods of neglect in the 1960s, '70s and '80s," he said.

By the time the 1980s approached, there was a piano-sized hole in the roof. In 2008, the roof was replaced to avoid further rot and decay to the floors of the lighthouse.

At some point, the second floor collapsed and caved into the first floor, which then collapsed and caved into the cellar, Annin said.

Extensive parts of the floor were gone forever, creating piles of debris in the cellar. Throughout the summer Gull Rock Lightkeepers and Robert E. Johnson Contracting in Lake Linden worked to rebuild from the floors up, so to speak, by building the subflooring.

"They know the logistics and challenges of Gull Rock really well," Annin said.

All flooring that was no longer salvageable was removed and the floor that was salvageable was supported. For the first time in decades, the lighthouse has flooring that is safe to walk on, Annin said.

"It's structurally sound," he said.

Now the group can begin to focus on getting people out to visit the lighthouse, which is located west of Manitou Island. A volunteer who lives part-time in Copper Harbor constructed temporary windows to allow light and air to get into the lighthouse, which was important to keep the lighthouse from seeming like a cave, Annin said.

"We've got natural light and the Lake Superior breeze coming through," he said. "It's like a whole other place out there now."

Annin said the group has received many small donations from around the Upper Peninsula, the state and the Midwest. Funds have been able to be used as matches for state grants from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program.

The mission is to restore the light to be as historically accurate as possible. The original lighthouse had a dormer on the south side of the roof, but at the time, the group didn't have the money to replace the roof with the dormer. The plan is to fundraise in the future and add the dormer later on.

At this point, the next phase will be to put down the surface flooring and replace the deteriorating bricks.

"A lot of bricks have fallen off because of the freezing and thawing," Annin said.

Also, the plaster is gone and the walls needs new plaster, but Annin said the biggest issue was getting the lighthouse to be structurally sound.

The lighthouse opened in 1867, and until the mid-1880s, docks did not exist at the Gull Rock Lighthouse. Docks were put in around 1885 and used until the early 1900s.

"We don't have a dock out there and we're not sure we could ever have a dock out there," he said. "Most people who come out there are going to have to come on a really calm day."

Annin said he hopes to see the light become a destination site for tourism someday. Gull Rock Lighthouse can be viewed from High Rock Bay. The project isn't expected to be completed for several years.

"It depends on how many donations we can get," he said.

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