2017-11-02 / Front Page

Fox Island lighthouse celebrates 150 years

Making a comeback
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THE 150TH anniversary of the first light at the South Fox Island Lighthouse will be celebrated Nov. 11 in Leland. Photo by: Cathy Allchin THE 150TH anniversary of the first light at the South Fox Island Lighthouse will be celebrated Nov. 11 in Leland. Photo by: Cathy Allchin Attention is turning to Leelanau’s “other” island this week with the 150th anniversary of the lighting of the South Fox Lighthouse.

The Manitou Islands, both part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, get plenty of visitors and plenty of ink.

But you have to really want to get to South Fox, situated 17 miles off the shoreline of the Leelanau Peninsula. And a group of ambitious volunteers has been doing just that for more than a decade.

The Fox Island Lighthouse Association just completed its 13th year of work at the island.

“It belongs to the people of Leelanau County, Leelanau Township,” said Sandra Serra Bradshaw, co-founder of FILA. “It’s a precious thing that is being saved by a wonderful group of people.”


CONSTRUCTION OF this new outhouse on South Fox is one of the many accomplishments of the Fox Island Lighthouse Association. 
Photo by: Cathy Allchin CONSTRUCTION OF this new outhouse on South Fox is one of the many accomplishments of the Fox Island Lighthouse Association. Photo by: Cathy Allchin Henry J. Roe first lit the lighthouse on Nov. 1, 1867 — 150 years ago yesterday.

The light shone the way for many a mariner who hugged the western shore of Lake Michigan going from Chicago to the Straits of Mackinac. It also helped sailors passing between South Fox and North Manitou Islands at night.

South Fox Island’s lighthouse building was occupied through 1959 when the last crew left the island.

The remote facility, which includes the light and six structures, fell into disrepair, languishing as it changed ownership from the Department of the Interior to the State of Michigan.

FILA worked for many years in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources.

However, a 25-year lease inked in 2013 with the state agency, has kicked the restoration of the lighthouse and grounds into high gear.

Now it’s full steam ahead.

Just last summer alone, FILA volunteers restored the tower light windows, vandalized 40 years ago; nearly completed work on the summer quarters of the lighthouse (formerly known as the lean-to); and installed an outhouse.

“It’s all about volunteers,” FILA vice-president Cathy Allchin said. “Without these people with a passion in their heart, none of this would happen.”

FILA’s cadre of volunteers includes locals who make day-trips to the island, arriving on a boat launched from Northport.

“They’ll come out, work four or five hours and go back,” Allchin said.

But there are others, coming from as far away as Texas who spend as many as four weeks at a time working on lighthouse projects.

Transportation to and from the island is a challenge. Likewise, the lack of a dock complicates access for volunteers making the trip and impedes the delivery of building materials needed for projects.

“You have to use a dingy to get on shore,” Allchin said.

Given these roadblocks, the accomplishments of FILA are remarkable.

“Just having an outhouse out there is great,” she said.

Allchin’s enthusiasm for bathroom facilities lead to the replacement of a cracked commode in the 1867 lighthouse.

With a little detective work Allchin found the name of the company that originally supplied the commode in 1910.

She contacted the company, Rundle- Spence in Milwaukee, and drove there to pick it up — leaving at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning and returning to the county by 9:30 that Monday night.

While in Milwaukee, Allchin also mentioned that the claw-foot tub had been stolen from the lighthouse quarters. The company owner, whose grandparents met one another year’s ago in Glen Arbor, was happy to provide a replacement tub.

“We’re so excited to see this taking shape. So many people have contributed so much,” she said. “Once a dock is built, people will be able to get out there. … We’re getting read for visitors.

FILA will celebrate the 150th anniversary from 3 to 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Munnecke Room of the Leland Township Library.

Live music, refreshments, appetizers and desserts will be provided.

Allchin will give a presentation about the historic restoration project.

Further information is available at southfox.org.

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