The Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society has announced it has completed the refinishing of the exterior of the lighthouse tower, its final major capital restoration project. The work was done by Harbor Beach-based Al’s Tree Service, a specialty project painting company owned by Allen Brandow. He and critical employee Lee Elliott did all the work. It involved using a high gloss, epoxy-based white exterior coating with a projected minimum life of 30+ years and required building scaffolding around the entire structure. Tours this summer were closed, so the work could be done without interruption. Tours will restart in June 2021.
The other major restoration project completed two years ago was the reconstruction of the original fog signal building. It is an exact duplicate of the original structure and used pre-finished powder coated roof and siding components with a 30+ year projected life. The Fog Signal Building houses a growing number of exhibits for tour participants. It shows the maritime history of Harbor Beach and the construction of the break wall and lighthouse that is still considered the largest freshwater harbor in the world.
Taking Charge of A Local Icon
The Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society was established when the Coast Guard announced it would no longer be maintaining the lighthouse. “We formed our Society as a response to a national plan by the Coast Guard to stop maintaining lighthouses as an active aid to navigation due to the rapid switch to onboard electronic navigation technology,” states Buzz Hoerr, Society Board Chair. ” There are 129 recognized lighthouses in Michigan, the largest number of any state, and there are now dedicated individuals, groups, and local government entities that have taken actual ownership of most of them to restore them and provide public access in the form of tours.”
Skip Kadar, Society President, noted, “This project has brought together a large group of area tradespeople. These are residents who enjoy being tour docents, private donors, and the Huron County Community Foundation to provide the financial support needed to completely restore the lighthouse.” “It has truly been a community volunteer effort, adding up to thousands of hours over several years to get to this point,” stated Pam Semp, Society gift shop manager and a longtime Board Member commented. She went on to say, “It makes all of us feel so proud of how our community has come together to restore our most important symbol. Come visit us next summer!”
Huron County Community Foundation Executive Director, Mackenzie Price Sunbland added, “HCCF was pleased to provide grant support for this project. Protecting our county’s history and further beautifying public spaces are two areas the Community Foundation has supported since our inception. We are proud to play a small role in the Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society’s efforts.”
Additional lighthouse information, including tour reservations, can be found at http://harborbeachlighthouse.org/ .
History Of The Largest Man-Made Harbor On The Great Lakes
In 1871 shipping in the Great Lakes was nearing its height. Over 30,000 trips were made past the eastern Thumb shore. However, there were no harbors in which ships could take refuge during the fall storms that were and still are common across the region. The 80 miles between Port Huron and the mouth of Saginaw Bay is described as a long stony beach along a cliff-lined shore with boulders, and dangerous ledges. Ships steered a course 2 to 3 miles offshore, where they risked being fully exposed to the weather. In 1871 it was one of the busiest stretches of lakes in the entire upper lakes.
Congress Funds the Harbor Beach Project
In 1871 Congress allocated $1,000,000 of a harbor of refuge within the 150 miles between Port Huron and Thunder Bay at Alpena. A survey was commissioned in May of 1872 to test the lake bottoms holding power. The Lake Survey Steamer, Ada began bottom testing at Point aux Barques and headed south. For 30 miles, the steamer stopped every tenth of a mile and dropped an 820-pound anchor to test holding capacity. Not happy with the results, the Ada tested an additional twenty miles of shoreline and found that the area off of Sand Beach and Port Hope as potential sites.
The site of Sand Beach was chosen, not because it was any better than Port Hope but because it required 3,000 feet less break wall.
The area around Sand Beach in 1872 was pretty remote, even for the pioneering standards of the time. It had no merchants and no manufacturing except a few shingle makers. In 1873 the area became the site of one of the most ambitious harbor projects on the Great Lakes. This project was known as the “Harbor of Refuge at Sand Beach”. When it was completed, the town sprung up with a railroad station, and post office all supporting the harbor.
Largest Freshwater Port in the World
Harbor Beach has a rich history. In 1883 when the harbor was completed, it made Harbor Beach the largest freshwater port in the world. This one-mile by three miles long port with 650 acres of anchorage was enclosed by three break walls with two entrances. One is the north and the other at the east. This enabled shipping protection in the 150-mile lake run after leaving Port Huron. The city later became home to major industries including a starch and power plant.
Harbor Beach Michigan is also been home to a continuous Life-Saving Service / Coast Guard presence since 1881. A Life-Saving Service Station was established in Sand Beach then replaced in 1909. In 1935 a new Coast Guard Station was built offshore. Today the USCG is manned year-round by Coast Guard personnel.