Marquette's light station has a history of stormy weather, both literal and figurative, over the years.
Marquette, and the surrounding region, owes much of its development to the discovery of iron ore deposits at Lake Teal near Lake Superior.
Congress allotted $5,000 to build a lighthouse at Marquette in 1850.
The original lighthouse was a modest stone tower standing 26 feet and 8 inches tall, likely accompanied by a small stone dwelling for the keeper, just north of the harbor.
The little light proved unable to withstand the heavy wind and waves in Marquette's Harbor and continued to deteriorate as the country fought the Civil War.
The fourth light keeper at Marquette, Nelson Truckey, helped establish a Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment in 1861. He departed for war and left his wife Anastasia to tend the light and raise their four children for the next several years, making her possibly the first female light keeper to serve on the Great Lakes.
In 1866, the Congress approved $13,000 to repair and renovate the lighthouse at Marquette. It soon became clear that replacement of the deteriorating structure became necessary. Construction began on a yellow brick lighthouse with a 40-foot-tall square tower and one-and-one-half story attached dwelling.
Congress approved money for a fog signal in 1873.
In 1875, Army engineers also built a 2,000-foot-long breakwater to protect the harbor from high wind and waves
Keeping the fog signal working, adding a beacon at the end of the breakwater, and adding two other fog signals by 1880 greatly added to the keepers' duties at Marquette.
Marquette gained approval for an assistant light keeper in 1874. By 1882, lighthouse authorities reassigned or removed ten different light keepers from Marquette.
Captain Patrick McGuire, a highly respected Great Lakes light keeper arrived in 1882, staying there for the next 11 years.
McGuire's wife Catherine served as Marquette's assistant keeper from 1882 until 1891, even though lighthouse authorities did not allow women to serve as assistants in lighthouses with fog signals. The area inspector supposedly ignored this regulation in Catherine's case because of Patrick's stellar reputation as a light keeper and the difficulty Marquette had in retaining a good keeper.
In 1891, Catherine went to Chicago to visit family. Patrick reported her as absent without permission or giving proper notice, so Catherine lost her position as assistant light keeper. The couple left Marquette by 1893.
I don't know about you, but I have to wonder if Catherine's job loss and the couple's departure from Marquette are somehow related.
The Coast Guard established a Life Saving Station on the lighthouse grounds in 1891. That didn't help Light Keeper William Wheatley when he went fishing with a friend in 1898 and drowned when the pair's boat capsized.
Assistant keepers lived in rented quarters in town until 1895, when the city connected the lighthouse to its water system and work began to convert the light station's barn into an assistant keeper's dwelling.
The lighthouse became extremely popular with visitors. Crowds often arrived on weekends to stroll along the beach, tour the lighthouse, picnic and build bonfires.
The crowds caused a lot of extra work for the light keeping staff, and then-Light Keeper Robert Carlson worried about the bonfires and campfires not always properly extinguished by visitors.
In 1903, Carlson asked the region's lighthouse inspector about the fires, and the inspector told Carlson to ban the bonfires and campfires. Several days after receiving those instructions, Carlson asked a group with a bonfire on the lighthouse grounds to comply with the new rules by extinguishing the fire and leaving the area.
A surf man from the light saving station named David Shelton was among the group and assaulted Carlson the next day as the keeper made his rounds on the breakwater.
It took two weeks of bed rest for Carlson to recover from injuries received in the beating. There is no record of a charge or conviction of assault for Shelton, and the assistant light keeper who witnessed the assault and did nothing to stop it. Carlson requested, and received a transfer to duty as a light keeper at the Whitefish Point light station.
Things seemed to become quieter at Marquette after the Carlson incident with the biggest events being things like expanding the keepers' home attached to the light tower from 1-1/2 stories to 2 stories with the coming of a second fog signal and a second keeper around 1910.
The Coast Guard became responsible for operating and maintaining the light station in 1939 and it became a Coast Guard training station during WWII with up to 300 recruits living in various buildings on the grounds.
Today, the lighthouse remains an active Coast Guard station with access to the lighthouse and its grounds restricted by The Department of Homeland Security.
The Coast Guard leased the lighthouse and surrounding grounds to the Marquette Maritime Museum Association for 30 years in 2002. The association operates a museum in an old city waterworks building near the lighthouse conduct tours of the lighthouse during the summer.
The museum generally opens in mid-May and conducts lighthouse tours daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through mid-October.
Museum records show that 12,000 visitors toured the museum and lighthouse last year.
Unfortunately, we were not among that number as we visited the lighthouse early June and found the museum closed (as were many sites in early June of last year due to government budget cuts).
Being unable to take the museum-escorted tour made it impossible to walk around to the front of the museum to take photographs, leaving us with a few images of the back of the lighthouse.
Work continues on lighthouse restoration with a "Paint the Lighthouse Red" fund raising campaign aimed to replace the roof, repair the brick exterior and refresh the lighthouse's bright red-painted exterior.
I'm hope the next time we visit Marquette, we'll be able to take a lighthouse tour or have the opportunity to capture some better images by taking a harbor boat tour.
Want to learn more about Marquette and its harbor lighthouse? Check out Marquette (Images of America) by Gabriel N. Downs and Michael C. Downs or The Ultimate Guide to Upper Michigan Lighthouses by Jerry Roach.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved