They started guiding vessels through their voyage into St. Clair River before Abraham Lincoln became president. And, this summer, one of those two historic lighthouses at the southeastern tip of Harsens Island will once again light up the nighttime sky for boaters.
"These lights have been dark for over 100 years," said Save Our South Channel Lights director and owner Mark Miller of the rear range light. "So, we are going to re-light that light that night."
Local fund-raisers set to preserve lighthouse on lake
Nonprofit group Save Our South Channel Lights is raising money to complete restoration of the front range light created in the 1850s to guide fur traders and other sailors on wooden ships through the delta once known as the "Venice of America." It currently has a U.S. Coast Guard beacon light, according to the group.
The volunteer organization, founded by president Chuck Brockman, is holding a fund-raiser called "Light the Night" Aug. 7 at the MacRay Harbor in Harrison Township that will lead a dinner cruise and another ship to the rear lighthouse island, where Brockman, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Congresswoman Candice Miller are scheduled to light the historic structure that night. A parade of boats will also circle the lighthouse.
Another fundraiser for the lighthouse project is also scheduled from 1-4 p.m. July 22 at in Chesterfield Township. The event is free and open to the public. SOSCL will be on hand to collect donations and sign up new members.
All proceeds from the events will be used to restore the front light, which is leaning and in jeopardy of crumbling into the lake.
Structures are rich in area history
The group began championing the lighthouses decommissioned in 1907 when they were in severe disrepair in the 1980s. It aims to raise about $30,000 that will be combined with existing funds and grant money.
"There are very few lighthouses in their original state left in the United States of America," SOSCL Secretary Kathy Brady said. "If these things weren't started to be preserved 22 years ago, they would not be here today. They would be gone."
Before the lights were finished in 1859, ships stopped at Anchor Bay, thus earning its name, because sailors could not navigate their route in the darkness. In later years, the lighthouse island became known for loitering by the Purple Gang and Detroit area politicians who brought women of "ill repute" there. The rear light had a spacious house attached to it for the lighthouse keeper that was eventually demolished, according to the group.
SOSCL has added seawalls to both the lighthouses and even began hosting wedding ceremonies last summer at the rear light. An Eagel Scout project also created an outhouse on the property, the group said.
Getting involved, learning more about lighthouses
Tickets for the "Light the Night" event the evening of Aug. 7 are $50 and $75. Ships begin loading at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.soschannellights.org.
In addition, "Metro Beach Discovery Cruises" that focus on the lighthouses' history are offered throughout the summer, beginning at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. The cruise dates are: 6 p.m. June 20, 10 a.m. June 24, 6 p.m. June 28, 10 a.m. July 1 and 10 a.m. July 6. Click here to register.