Charity Island Michigan Lighthouse Ruins 1993

Charity Island Michigan Lighthouse Ruins 1993

Charity Island Lighthouse Ruins 1993
Charity Island Lighthouse Ruins 1993

This picture was taken in 1993 by photographer and artist Sue Hardy. This year was also about when Standish real estate broker Robert Wiltse and a group of investors bought Charity Island Michigan for development. They envisioned 24 exclusive homes across the island. The project’s first phase was to take 60,000 pounds of dynamite to blast out the small harbor. It took 16 weeks to carve out the marina basin and connect it to the lake by a channel.

How Did Charity Island Get Its Name?

Charity Island, also known as Big Charity Island, is the largest island in Saginaw Bay, part of Lake Huron in Michigan, USA. The island encompasses about 222 acres and is located approximately 10 miles off the coast of Au Gres, Michigan.

Charity Island was included in property ceded to the British by the French in the Paris Treaty of 1763. Finally, this Territory became part of the United States in 1805.

During an exploration and surveying expedition in 1820, noted geologist Henry Schoolcraft called the island Shawangunk. The French denoted the island as Shawagunk on their maps of the region. Shawangunk is designated as a descriptive word meaning cloudy, foggy, or smoky. This a perfect description of the weather over Saginaw Bay and Charity Island on some mornings.

It’s conceivable that the indigenous tribes did not refer to Charity Island as Shawangunk. One theory is that the Lenape phase “Schawan,” which means “there is smoky air” or “there is smoky air,” was brought by the French. “Schwank” is the noun variant, meaning “smoky air.” By adding the suffix, we get “schawangunk,” which means “in that which is smoky air” or simply “in the smoky air.”

A Resource Center And Stop Along An Ancient Trading Route

For over millennia, the island was a resource for Native American tool-making. Chert, a low-grade kind of flint, is deeply entrenched in the limestone that outcrops along the island’s coastline. Native American Americans who lived on the island for close to 2,000 years before the first Europeans arrived developed it into a vital source of chert throughout time.

Until the Chippewas and other tribes engaged in warfare and completely wiped off the Sauks in 1535 around Pt. Au Gres, Michigan, the Sauks controlled access to the Flint deposits and inhabited the Saginaw Bay Region.

The island straddled a route across Saginaw Bay. Schoolcraft noted in his journals, “In order to cross Saginaw Bay with safety in a canoe, it is necessary to pass up the eastern shore from Point aux Barques to Point aux Chenes, a distance of eighteen miles. Here, if the lake is calm, the voyageur crosses by a stretch of twenty miles to the opposite shore, with the advantage of landing on the island of Shawangunk, should a storm overtake him in the center of the Bay, which is frequently the case. On gaining the opposite shore, it is necessary to pass down the bay about the same distance that was formerly ascended before the open lake is again reached.

Development on Charity Island

In 1997 development plans were deferred, and Wiltse sold most of the island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a new acquisition for the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Sanctuary. The non-profit Nature Conservancy bought a few more acres from Wiltse and bought the lighthouse tower from the government.

Michigan Lighthouses - Charity Island Michigan
Charity Island Light Tower and House 2019

Robert kept five acres around the lighthouse keepers’ house, which architects said was unsalvageable and had collapsed. Robert and Karen Wiltse rebuilt an updated light keepers home on the same foundation and kept much of the site lines and details of the original house. However, it has been updated to be self-sufficient with wind and solar power generation and its own water purification system. The interior living areas are contemporary for guests and the family. The second-floor bedrooms were decorated in the period 1880s, and furniture had been collected from within the family. It is nicely done and reflects the late 1880s perfectly.

Visitors can go to Charity Island, Michigan, during the summer season. The Charity Island Dinner Cruise was a popular tour that may come back during the 2023 season. Visit Explorer Charters for schedule, pricing, and details. There is a long and interesting history of Charity Island when it was the key rest stop and focal point to entering Saginaw Bay. See the post Mysterious Charity Island.

Video: Charity Island History

Charity Island History Part 1 of 3

13 of the Best Attractions in Michigan Thumb – Michigan’s Upper Thumb offers close-to-home-up-north family fun. With over 100 miles of sandy beaches, hopping port towns, and a seemingly endless choice of festivals, fairs, and events. The tip of the thumb is the natural choice for Southeast Michigan to find a summer day of fun

The Faded Glory of Huron City, Michigan – Michigan small towns have a special place in the hearts of their inhabitants. However, some towns slowly fade from their once-busy streets to a scene resembling a stopped clock. No longer functional but certainly recognizable. One such town is Huron City, Michigan.

Huron County Boating and Sailing – Here is another wonderfully produced video from LIVE Huron. This one focuses on Huron County boating and sailing opportunities with some great shots of Caseville harbor and breakwall.

Lighthouses of Michigan’s Upper Thumb – There are 124 Michigan lighthouses nationwide. They are unique and functional, drawing many visitors to explore their grounds or climb the towers. Of the four lighthouses in the Upper Thumb, only one is accessible directly from the land. All the others need a boat to access.

Explorer Charters Offering Charity Island Picnic Cruise This Summer – Thumbwind has been researching the island’s history and reached out to Captain Tom Carriveau, who has been taking visitors out on Charity Island Tours for over seven years. Here is our latest on Captain Tom’s preparations for the Summer.

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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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