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Grays Reef Lighthouse – Michigan

4 min read

Grays Reef is in northern Lake Michigan near the entrance to the Straits Of Mackinac.
Grays Reef Passage, a narrow channel in the northeasterly end of the lake that runs between Grays Reef on the west and Vienna Shoal on the east, is the only navigable opening for deep-draft vessels between the Straits of Mackinac and the waters east of Beaver Island and the Manitou Islands.

In the 1880s, as shipments of iron ore increased through the straits, shippers began advocating for better lighting of the shoals in the area. Thus in 1889, Congress appropriated $60,000 to construct three lightvessels to be moored at Simmons Reef, White Shoals, and here, at Grays Reef.
The three vessels, designated LV55, LV56, and LV57, were constructed by Blythe Craig Shipbuilding of Toledo, Ohio, and were put in service in late 1891. LV57 served for every shipping season on Grays Reef until 1923, when its hull had deteriorated to a point where it was removed from its service.
LV103 (the Lightship Huron) served on Grays reef from 1923–27, when LV56 was transferred to the station. LV56 lasted only two years until it, too deteriorated, was removed from service.
By the first part of the 1929 season, with improvements in underwater construction, it had become feasible to construct a permanent light station on Grays Reef, rather than depending on a moored lightvessel, and so in 1934, Congress approved funding for a new station.
The Greiling Brothers Company was hired to construct the light station, and work began in the summer of that year. The site selected for this lighthouse was considerably south of the lightship and somewhat to the east, where it could mark a new 900 meters wide channel that would be excavated through the reef. The structure was finished in September 1936, two months behind schedule and over budget.
A year later, a radio beacon and a 12 m tower was installed at the station, removed in 2010.
A third-and-a-half-order Fresnel lens, illuminated by an electric bulb, produced an occulting red light with 13,000 candlepower that was on for four seconds and off for two seconds.

The lighthouse had a room that served as the galley, dining room, recreation room, and living room, and off this were two small rooms with bunk beds for the crew. Elwood Wade was in charge of the station in 1966, and members of his four-man crew would typically work three weeks on followed by a week off.
Life was pretty routine at the station, but on the night of May 6, 1965, the men were watching Ben Casey on TV when they were startled by a large thump. The crew knew ships were in the area as they could hear their whistles, but they were surprised to discover that the 154-meters freighter J.E. Upson had crashed into the lighthouse in dense fog.
It did little damage to the lighthouse but the ships bow was split open and taking on water. Luckly the ship made it to Mackinaw City before sinking.

There were no mice on the lighthouse, but one day Elwood Wade was startled to find a 1,2-meters water snake that had somehow made its way up into the structure. Though the men sometimes played table tennis and cards, they spent most of their leisure time watching TV. A twenty-four-hour watch was kept in the radio room, with crewmen serving six-hour shifts. Each man did his own laundry in a washing machine located in the basement, but the crew took turns cooking, and the cook always washed his own dishes.

During the first week of October 1976, the Coast Guard Cutter Buckhorn removed the final crew from Grays Reef Lighthouse, forty years after the structure was completed. The light was automated and has been sitting in Lake Michigan alone, when a solar-powered system was installed, and now it has a 190 mm 12-volt DC acrylic Tideland Signal optic.
The light sits on a square reinforced concrete pier and it is 9.1 m high. Atop the pier is a two-story base 4.6 m high, and the lighthouse tower, 20 m tall, is placed in the center of the building roof.
It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Images from web – Google Research