2017-06-22 / Views

Maritime history essential to Leelanau

our opinion

Landlubbers need constant reminding of Leelanau’s freshwater lore, so we welcome the active role of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum in unraveling mysteries buried under Lake Michigan’s waves.

Last week we chronicled Lighthouse Museum executive director Stef Staly’s work with Northport Public School to involve students in the recently created the Maritime Archaeology and Research Program.

Ms. Staley’s enthusiasm was evident and contagious. Students started by building underwater, exploratory robots and concluded with a voyage aboard the research vessel “Northwestern,” where they helped map 20 man-left “targets” resting comfortably on the bottom of Northport Bay.

Some were known to researchers, a term that applies to students who pored through history books and online postings to get a feel for what was out there.

Some of their findings were surprising, some were expected. There was plenty of excitement to elicit another voyage, which will take place next week.

When the “Northwestern” heads out, she’ll have aboard the great-grandson of a sailor who was aboard the schooner “Venus” when she sunk.

Peter Nelson, who immigrated to America from Drager, Denmark, was captain of the Venus, a schooner that made its way from Chicago to Traverse City. It was Mr. Nelson who in 1851 ferried Perry Hannah to what is now Traverse City, where Hannah and the community he helped to found flourished.

After the Venus foundered in 1871, Peter Nelson took up a more passive life, that of Grand Traverse Lighthouse keeper. He held the position from 1874 to 1890, two years before his death.

Dave Nelson of Northport can’t wait for a chance to look for shipwrecks. He credits Staley for sparking interest in maritime history.

“She’s good with history, and she’s done a good job out there,” he said.

The Lighthouse Museum joins what might be considered a heavy slate of nonprofits and governments immersed in maritime work. For example:

 The Inland Seas Education Association based in Suttons Bay will hold an open house Friday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Discovery Pier in Grelickville for its latest acquisition, the schooner “Utopia.” The schooner, which has made two circles around the globe, was donated by the Peterson family of Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

Inland Seas continues the work of its founder, captain Tom Kelly, who made it his life’s passion to pass on the heritage of the Great Lakes.

 Maritime Heritage Alliance’s fleet includes five classic freshwater boats led by the Madeline, a 56-foot masted replica of an 1840s schooner. For anyone with a love of sailing — or maritime history — we recommend getting involved with the alliance, which seeks to “preserve, interpret, share and promote the maritime heritage of the Great Lakes.” It’s headquarters is also based in Greilickville.

 Local museums throughout the county do a wonderful job of preserving and bringing us closer to Lake Michigan lore. For example, the Leelanau Historical Society Museum in Leland offers pertinent exhibits such as “Shipwrecks of the Manitou Passage.”

 The Maritime Museum can be found in the historic Sleeping Bear Point Lighthouse. The National Park Service is in the business of keeping our nation’s history. The Maritime Museum offers hands-on exhibits with an emphasis on the U.S. Lifesaving Service.

 And other groups such as Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear and the Manitou Islands Memorial Society.

Did we miss someone? Probably.

We offer kudos to all those folks involved in Leelanau’s maritime heritage.

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