Conservancy group looking to restore White City lighthouse

By Garrett Neese


WHITE CITY – Eighty-six steps lead to the top of the Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light.

it’s been a popular destination for White City beach-goers who walk the half-mile-long breakwater to the lighthouse. Some have jumped into the water from one of the lower levels, or painted their graduating year on the panels. But few people have climbed the steps since the lighthouse was automated in the 1950s.

That will be changing with the recent acquisition of the light by the Keweenaw Waterway Lighthouse Conservancy in September. The conservancy will be rehabilitating the lighthouse property with the goal of opening the building to the public for tours.

Nathan Miller, president and founder of the conservancy, formed it in 2014 in response to the potential sale of the lighthouse through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Under the act, lighthouses can be transferred for free to other federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofits, educational agencies and community development organizations. If no suitable stewards can be found, the lighthouse is auctioned off.

“I talked with a friend on the board of directors on the Gull Rock Lighthouse, and he was talking about how it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Miller said. “Who gets to save a lighthouse in the Great Lakes? I went for it, at the last minute.”

The only applicant for the lighthouse, the conservancy was chosen as owner in October 2015. The official transfer didn’t take place until September due to delays in securing a lease for the Army Corps of Engineers breakwater.

The lighthouse, located at the southern entrance to the Portage Canal, dates back to 1920. it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s not an ancient lighthouse,” Miller said. “It’s just old enough to be interesting.”

Being more modern, the concrete-and-steel structure has held up to the elements better than one of brick or wood. But there are still things to fix, such as concrete that is beginning to spall and crack.

It is not possible to install an elevator, Miller said, but they may also try to make some changes, such as wider steps; the last of those 86 steps come via a narrow spiral staircase.

Though the KWLC owns the building, the U.S. Coast Guard will continue to maintain the light at the top. It’s smaller than the Fresnel light once used there, which is now on display at the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse.

The next step for the conservancy is completing a condition assessment report and draw up plans and specifications for the work to come. After cleanup, the conservancy hopes to start limited tours next summer.

In the future, the KWLC may pursue the Upper Entrance Light at the South Entry, should the government move to sell it off. Other than that, there are some old Coast Guard structures, including old barracks, Miller said.

“We’re not really anticipating going after anything like that just yet,” he said. “We’ve got the lighthouse, so we’d start small.”

People interested in donating towards the lighthouse rehabilitation, volunteering or serving on the board for the conservancy can go to keweenawlighthouse.org or email keweenawlight@gmail.com.


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