History, cont.

Life at the Grand Traverse Light station settled into a routine, with no mention of any repairs appearing in official documents until 1869, when the Eleventh District Inspector reported the station in good condition with the exception of some of the woodwork and doors, which had shrunk considerably as a result of the use of improperly seasoned lumber in their construction. A work crew arrived at the station the following year and effected the necessary repairs, and in testimonial to the increasingly important role played by the station, the District Lampist arrived to upgrade the lens to a larger fixed white lens of the Fourth Order. 1880 saw the erection of a wood shed, the pouring of a concrete floor in the cellar, and a complete repainting of the building and to provide housing for the keeper’s horse and feed, a two story barn 18 feet wide by 24 feet in length was erected.

c.1910, showcasing the brick oil storage building erected in 1896

In the early days of the US lighthouse service, lard and sperm oil ware used for fueling the lamps, and being relatively non-volatile, the oil was stored in cellar of the main lighthouse. With a change to the significantly more volatile kerosene, a number of devastating dwelling fires were experienced throughout the system in the 1880’s and the Lighthouse Board began building separate oil storage buildings at all US light stations. To this end, the lighthouse tender AMARANTH arrived at Grand Traverse late in 1895 and offloaded the materials for a brick oil storage building which was erected the following spring.

Fog signal building built Dec 20, 1899

With increasing numbers of vessels rounding the point on their journey to and from the Straits, mariners became increasingly dependent on the Grand Traverse Light to mark the turn. With thick fogs frequently blanketing the area, the Lighthouse Board recommended that an appropriation of $5,500 be made to cover the costs of such an installation in its 1895 annual report, and Congress responded with the necessary appropriation on July 1, 1898. Plans and specifications for the structure were finalized over the winter, and contracts awarded for the construction materials and signal machinery on January 10, 1899. A work crew and materials were delivered at the station late that summer, and by November the brick building was complete and work turned to the installation of the fog signal plant. The boilers and machinery were moved into the building and plumbed to the ten-inch locomotive whistle which protruded from the lakeward end wall of the building. Work continued through the end of the year, with the signal officially placed into service on December 20.

Inside the lantern room, by Selector John Photography

With the establishment of the fog signal, it was determined that the workload at Grand Traverse would be more than a single keeper could handle, and the decision was made to add a First Assistant Keeper at the station. However, with the main lighthouse building being designed for a single family, additional accommodations were needed. Thus, in 1901 the dwelling was significantly enlarged and remodeled to convert the dwelling into a duplex with accommodations for two families.

1904 was likely a memorable years for the Grand Traverse keepers, as they split and loaded 49 cords of wood into the boilers in order to keep the ten-inch whistle screaming for a station record 318 hours.

Steel tower beacon which replaced the light in 1972


The boilers and whistle in the fog signal were removed in 1933, and replaced by a Type “F” diaphone fog signal, its air compressor powered by diesel engines. The diesel engines were in turn replaced by a 440-volt Worthington air compressor in 1953. Coast Guard crews continued to maintain the station until 1972, when the tower light was replaced by an automated beacon mounted on a steel skeletal tower.

The Lighthouse and Fog Signal Building stood vacant after closing, until 1985 when a local group organized the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Foundation (that’s us!) with a goal of preserving the historic buildings and creating an interesting and educational “living lighthouse” for the public to enjoy. After two years of renovation, the Lighthouse Foundation reopened the station as a museum on Memorial Day in 1987.

Excerpt taken from the lighthouse website of Terry Pepper. Visit his amazing website here.