Historic Eagle Harbor lighthouses receive grant awards

Photo via Keweenaw National Historic Park The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and the Rock of Ages Lighthouse each received preservation matching grants from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program.

Two historic lighthouses in the Upper Peninsula have been awarded preservation grants, both of which are located in Keweenaw County, according to a Friday statement from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Office.

The lighthouses are the Rock of Ages Lightouse, on Isle Royale, just outside of Washington Harbor and the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, both located in Eagle Harbor Township.

The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program (MLAP) matching grant amount awarded to the Rock of Ages Lighthouse Preservation Society is in the amount of $46,000, according to the Governor’s Office statement.

The Preservation Society will hire a contractor to rehabilitate the 132-foot-tall lighthouse by cleaning and painting the exterior, the statement says. Situated on a tiny island of rock three miles off the coast of Isle Royale, Rock of Ages Lighthouse was last painted in 1985. This is the first MLAP grant award to Preservation Society.

“We are very excited to receive this grant from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program,” Rock of Ages Lighthouse Preservation Society Executive Director David Gerth is quoted as saying. “Cracking, missing vent covers, and heavy lichen growth on the exterior masonry of Rock of Ages Lighthouse are causing water infiltration that threatens to halt interior restoration efforts. This grant will allow us to hire a contractor to clean, repair, and paint the exterior masonry of the tower ensuring that interior restoration may continue as scheduled. This project marks a huge step toward our goal of opening the lighthouse to the public in the future.”

The 117-foot white cylinder-shaped, steel, concrete and brick lighthouse began operation in 1908, according to the National Park Service. Construction was carried out by Walter F. Beyer of Detroit. The erection of the 130′ tower on the remote reef was considered an engineering feat in its day, comparable to the light towers built on Spectacle Reef in Lake Huron (1874) and Stannard Rock (1882). The total construction cost was $125,000. A temporary third-order fixed red light was illuminated on October 11, 1908.

A four-member crew served the lighthouse until 1977, states the Park Service. They lived within the ten levels of the tower. The crib contained two basement levels which housed water tanks and a boiler that supplied steam heat through a pipe and radiator system to the levels above. The light tower was resurfaced and whitewashed ca. 1975. The second level moldings and pilasters were smoothed over giving it the spark plug shape it has today. A modern fog signal, located on the deck, replaced the fog-signal plant. The Fresnel lens and cast-iron pedestal were removed in 1985 and put on display at the Windigo Visitors’ center on Isle Royale. A much smaller acrylic lens with a solar-powered light serves as the beacon today. It is currently operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The matching grant awarded to the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse is $39,000. The Keweenaw County Historical Society will hire a contractor to rehabilitate the lighthouse tower. Proposed work will include replacement of deteriorated brick and selective repointing of the tower, repairing damaged plaster on the tower interior, roof and wall water diversion, and deck and lantern room repair. Since 2000, this is the fifth MLAP grant award to Keweenaw County Historical Society.

“The Keweenaw County Historical Society is very appreciative of receiving this grant award, especially since we are a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization,” Keweenaw County Historical Society President Mel Jones is quoted as saying. “This funding will help us preserve and maintain our 150+-year old lighthouse in a manner that is historically correct.”

The current structure at Eagle Harbor replaced an earlier facility after the Lighthouse Board requested $14,000 for new lighthouse to replace the deteriorated original structure, states lighthousefriends.com. The tower was built of red brick, and is ten feet square at its base. Terry Pepper reported that the tower was double-walled, with a circular inner wall approximately four inches thick and eight feet in diameter.

In 1982, the Keweenaw County Historical Society obtained temporary stewardship of the station buildings, and the Society set about restoring the dwelling and furnishing as it would have appeared at the dawn of the twentieth century. Congress transferred permanent ownership of the station to the Society in 1999, and thus survival of this historic structure is assured for future generations to enjoy, wrote Pepper.

Whitmer’s statement says the two historic lighthouses will make progress on long-term preservation efforts with the help of $106,000 in Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program (MLAP) grants from the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program was established to assist in the preservation, rehabilitation, and protection of historic lighthouses in Michigan. To qualify for an MLAP grant, applicants must have at least 50 percent of the MLAP grant amount in matching funds.


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