Anyone who has gone into Muscamoot or Gull Island from the north knows these unmistakable landmarks marking the channel:
Construction of the Old South Channel Range Lights started in 1855 and finished in 1859. These lights guided ships into the freshwater delta once known as the Venice of America.
For reference, Abraham Lincoln did not take office until 1861 putting them up there with some of the oldest lighthouses in Michigan.
History of the Lights:
By the late 1830s, it was recognized that constructing a shipping channel through the delta at the mouth of the Saint Clair River would be an aid in shipping. An 1842 survey by the Corps of Topographical Engineers recommended dredging the channel, but due in part to opposition by President James K. Polk, no federal funds were appropriated for a decade. In 1852, $20,000 was appropriated for improvements, but the money was quickly spent with little result. Meanwhile, the opening of the St. Mary’s Falls Ship Canal in Sault Ste. Marie increased shipping through the Great Lakes, and left the Saint Clair delta as the major bottleneck to commerce through the lakes.
In the early 1850s, numerous ship ran aground in the area, often blocking the entire canal and preventing access by other ships. Congress voted to appropriate further funds for improvements in 1854, but President Franklin Pierce vetoed the bills, as he did again in 1855 and 1856. By this time, the problem was severe, and in 1856, Congress overrode the presidential veto, and $45,000 was appropriated. From this funding, the canal dredging was completed, and two lighthouses and a nearby beacon constructed at the mouth of the channel. The two lighthouses were completed by 1859.
In 1866, a further $60,000 was appropriated for improvements. However, the United States Army Corps of Engineers recommended abandoning the current channel (known as the “south channel”) and opening up a new Saint Clair Flats channel. This new channel was opened in 1870, after which the older channel became less important, but still used.
In 1875, the front light began to lean. It was dismantled and rebuilt using the original stone and timber crib. By the early 20th century, the lights had become less useful, and in 1907 their use was discontinued. However, in 1915, the lights were re-established and continued in use until 1934, when they were again discontinued.
Despite the 1875 reconstruction, the front light began to lean further due to erosion near the base of the light. In 1990, the base was reinforced by constructing a steel cell and filling it with limestone for temporary support. In the fall of 1996, a permanent seawall was completed around the front light island by the Save Our South Channel Lights Group
The rear light was constructed with a large keeper’s house on the island surrounding the light. The house was demolished in the early 1930s. However, later vandalism has played a part in the overall deterioration of the rear light, which is also in need of major foundation work. Current restoration has been taking place on the rear light by the Save Our South Channel Lights Group
The current president of Save Our South Channel Lights is Gary Strobel. A longtime boater and advocate of Lake St Clair. “No government funding is given for any maintenance or upkeep of the lights,” said Gary. “All work is done by volunteers and paid for from donations we get.
The lights have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Save Our South Channel Lights Organization was created to raise public awareness and support for the preservation and restoration of the historic South Channel Lights on Lake St. Clair.
They offer both annual and lifetime membership and of course donations are always accepted.
Please support this great cause for these historic landmarks in Lake St Clair
Website – http://www.soschannellights.org
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/saveour.channellights/