After yesterday’s trek with a country twist, today’s offering promises something out of the ordinary. For me anyway. Not a hint of nature, unless you want to count some shots of the Detroit River. I didn’t even see a seagull cruising in the skies above.
I went to visit the Grosse
Isle North Channel Lighthouse, located on the Detroit River’s biggest
island, a/k/a Grosse Ile, which, according to Wikipedia, is 9.6 miles (24.9 kilometers) long
and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide.
The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1963 and is now closed to the public and its structure sits on private property. However, the Grosse Ile Historical Society, once a year, on the second Sunday in September, conducts their annual Lighthouse tour. There are four groups of twenty-four people, who are taken by bus and escorted by a member of the Historical Society along the narrow dock to this Lighthouse. All donations paid for the tour are used for upkeep of the structure.
Commemorating 1906 and celebrating Grandparents Day.
I booked this trip a month ago and kept my fingers crossed the weather would be good. Last year, I likewise registered/paid in advance, and the day of the tour was rainy so I didn’t go.
I was happy the event was taking place on the same date as Grandparents Day, (here in the U.S. a day to honor your grandparents), because the Lighthouse was built in 1906, the same year my maternal grandmother was born.
I often mention my grandmother in my blog posts. She was born November 19, 1906 in Ariss, a tiny farming community near Guelph, Ontario. She had eight siblings. Six of them were boys who grew up and bought their own farms near my great grandparents, living in that rural area until their deaths. Likewise for her two sisters, who moved closer to town, but never forgot their Ariss roots. Wilhelmina, or “Minnie” as my grandmother was known, was the exception, as the only one of the Klein kids to stray to the “Big City” … that “Big City” being Toronto, where she worked in the manufacturing industry and met my grandfather. This picture is from 1926 of my grandparents with my mom.
So, the way I figure it, 1906 was a very good year for new beginnings … Minnie Godard, née Klein, and the Grosse Ile North Range Lighthouse. Technically, a portion of the Lighthouse was built in 1904, but the permanent fixture, the Grosse Ile North Channel Front Range Lighthouse, which I toured today, was built onto its current concrete foundation in the year 1906.
Originally there were two lighthouses on this island. They were known as the Grosse Isle South Channel and Grosse Isle North Channel Lighthouses and their range lights guided mariners sailing along Grosse Isle. The South Channel Lighthouse structure is gone and only this historic structure remains. The black-and-white photo by the U.S. Coast Guard, featured in the header image shows the Lighthouse, circa 1904, on its original structure.
The Lighthouse may look tall in this old photo, but its actual height is just 40 feet. It is not as narrow inside as I suspected it might be. If anything was narrow, it was the dock/pier upon which you must walk carefully to get to the Lighthouse. As you see above (and below in my photos), it is a skinny pathway and on either side is a lot of water, perhaps a little daunting to one that does not know how to swim (like me). I wondered how close the water would be to the pier area, as we are five inches higher than normal due to heavy rains in the Spring. I was surprised to find plenty of clearance. My worries were unfounded (as usual).
I arrived shortly before our tour departure time of 1:00 p.m. There were many people milling about on the front lawn of the Grosse Ile Historical Society. I figured they were just like me, early arrivals for the 1:00 p.m. tour. I guessed wrong as they were actually tour members of a lighthouse club. I didn’t know that I would get a crash course in lighthouse lingo and meet some people who are enthusiastic about visiting lighthouses around North America. Who knew? Of the four groups of 24 persons that would tour the Lighthouse today, the first two groups were members of a club known as the “United States Lighthouse Society” and this was news to me. So 46 members of this group were on the first day of a seven-day tour, beginning in Detroit. The tour was entitled “Lake Erie North” with stops along Lake Erie in Chatham, Dunville, Simcoe and then on to Niagara Falls. They will visit a whopping 25 lighthouses this week.
I learned that all persons in this group have “lighthouse passports” which resemble a regular passport, and just as you get stamps at various ports of calls or countries you visit in a regular passport, they similarly covet a stamp marking their visit at each lighthouse. One woman in our 1:00 p.m. group, was not with the tour group, just attending as she is a lighthouse aficionado, and she wanted her passport stamped with today’s adventure. She told me she was already on her second passport of lighthouse visits and showed me her last entry which is the Grosse Ile Lighthouse.
So I was the only person who was a “newbie” in our 1:00 p.m. group, as I’d never been in a lighthouse before. The group was warm and friendly as they regaled me with tales of where they had toured in the past and what they would see on this trip. They will visit two lighthouses in Michigan today: the Grosse Ile Lighthouse and the Belanger Park Lighthouse in River Rouge. I was rather red-faced when I told them I never knew River Rouge, (a nearby city), had a lighthouse.
We left the museum, which is actually a former train depot built in 1904.
Vintage-type signs all around the depot/museum describe life back when this was a bustling depot and commerce in the area was done by train until 1931 when the Grosse Ile Parkway and “free bridge” were finished.
The bus driver stopped along the shoreline as we traveled to Hennepin Point. Our guide, a member of the Historical Society, narrated stories of historical significance to the island, including the homes of the wealthy homeowners who made their fortunes in local products like Vernors (soft drink) and Kelsey-Hayes (automotive parts).
We traveled along a row of stately homes on Lighthouse Point Drive. Once off the bus, we walked toward the Lighthouse. Once a year, the owner of the home (who owns Mans Lumber) permits these four tours to be conducted. We assembled on the homeowner’s front lawn by the shoreline, approximately 50 feet from the Lighthouse which sits on a 25-foot square concrete pier. The wooden walkway is actually a private boat dock. I asked if the five inches of above-normal rainfall covered the pier in the Spring and it did. Good thing no one had to light the lantern if waves were lapping at the pier!
I had read up on the history of the lighthouse and its restoration through the years. I knew it sustained much damage this past Winter, when the Polar Vortex froze most of the Detroit River solid and the ice piled up and thick chunks plowed into the Lighthouse base and railings causing much damage. You can see the ice chunks and damage by clicking here:
I saw the solid ice and ice chunks at Bishop Park, also on the Detroit River, and did a post about it. I was amazed at such a sight of the entire River being solid ice and waves had frozen in mid-air. It was a sight to behold. The Lighthouse was partially repaired and tomorrow the scaffolding will go up and painting and further restoration will begin.
We followed our guide who allowed eight persons access at a time. We were told there were 51 steps to ascend to reach the eight-sided lantern room, where all but two are the original windows/casings.
The steps were steep in the circular staircase. The inside was not well lit and the wood paneling was dark making it difficult to ascend the steps. This was a view along the way.
The last 11 steps had no railing. My tour buddies were all good with the steps, having done countless lighthouse tours in the past, but I was dealing with my eyeglasses, still dark from being outside, and the steep stairs. We arrived in the lantern tower. This is how it looks from the outside.
This is the view from the lantern tower:
Here at the lantern tower we were given a lecture on the Lighthouse, its significance in guiding mariners, as well as its various Lighthouse Keepers through the years. And then there was the trip down again. I was dreading it and I have to tell you that my legs were still wobbly as I walked across the wooden ramp which is a private boat dock used to access the Lighthouse
Here are some photos of the Lighthouse against a very dark sky with many brooding clouds.
When we finished the tour and waited to board the bus back to the depot, some tour members spotted four fawns in the bushes in a neighbor’s yard and the Mama deer loped across the driveway as we were boarding. I’d already tucked the camera back in the case, so no pics. It was an interesting and fun trip.
[Photo credit for header photo: United States Coast Guard]