2011 and Earlier / Special Interests

Shoal light built in 1935 to warn ships around North Manitou

Built in 1935 to mark a shoal just 20 feet below the surface of the water, the North Manitou Shoal Light replaced a succession of beacons aboard anchored vessels that warned passing ships of the reef since 1910.

A nickname given to it during construction has stuck. For a while, passing ship pilots called it “The Crib” because it was built on a square concrete foundation, or crib.
THE ‘CRIB’ was the nickname given the North Manitou Shoal Light during construction in 1935.THE ‘CRIB’ was the nickname given the North Manitou Shoal Light during construction in 1935.
Much of the structure was actually constructed in Frankfort, then transported to the shoal on two barges and sunk onto its crib. The main deck is about 20 feet above the water. Diesel generators which supplied electricity for the light and the crewmen worked on this level.

The next level contains the three bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and bathrooms which comprised the living quarters for the three crewmen who staffed the Crib at any one time during the shipping season. The red blinking light is about 75 feet above the water.

Any lighthouse duty is somewhat isolated, but offshore duty was especially so. The crewmen, who spent two weeks on duty with one week off, were busy during their shifts, but had very limited recreational opportunities between shifts. They watched television, read books and magazines, played board games, sunbathed and chatted by radio with passing ship captains. They also looked forward to deliveries from the supply boat from Leland or the occasional pleasure boat that tied up for a visit. Some crewmen pursued hobbies, like puzzles or ham radio. At least one Coast Guardsman used to perfect his rapelling techniques by lowering himself from the tower to the deck on ropes as if he were descending a mountain.

The Crib was the last manned offshore light station in the Great Lakes when it was automated by the Coast Guard in 1980. The beacon and fog signal are now powered by electricity supplied by underwater cable from the mainland.

The lightship that the Crib replaced also has been preserved. The North Manitou Shoal Lightship became Huron Station Lightship in 1935, and later was berthed for ultimate use for public visits.

South Manitou Island Lighthouse

South Manitou Island provides the only natural harbor in the 220 miles between Chicago and the Sleeping Bear area. Since it also served as a fuel stop for wood-burning nineteenth century steamers, South Manitou became an essential destination for many early ship captains.

The island’s first lighthouse was modest. This small wooden house with a light on top was completed in 1840. The island’s fog signal was a 1000-pound bell. In 1858, a larger lighthouse keeper’s dwelling was built, and a steady white beacon inside a fourth order Fresnel lens was perched atop a 35-foot wooden tower on its roof.

As shipping traffic increased, even this improved light proved inadequate. In making a case for a new tower and light for the island, an 1869 report emphasized the importance of this location:

Through the channel between South Manitou Island and the mainland, the principal commerce of the lake passes, guided by this light which should have a lens of higher order, with greater elevation and a characteristic distinction not readily mistaken. It is also a guide to a harbor of refuge which is probably more used than any other on the entire chain of lakes, and it is frequently impossible to distinguish the present light from those on board vessels at anchor.

The 100-foot tower built in 1871 was one of the highest on the Great Lakes. The new light consisted of three wicks fueled by kerosene and surrounded by a third order Fresnel lens. In 1875 the first steam-driven fog signal on Lake Michigan was installed in the separate fog signal building. Two wood-burning boilers produced the steam to blow the whistle every two minutes in foggy weather.

Abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1958, the lighthouse has been stabilized and partially restored by the National Park Service. Tours of the tower and keeper’s dwelling are conducted daily during the summer.

Editor’s note: The following story is reprinted with permission from Glen Arbor author George Weeks. It was taken from his book “Sleeping Bear, Yesterday and Today.”

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