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Own a Lighthouse July 15, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel, Yachts and other things that float.
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For virtually all my life my summer home has been up north on the west coast of the lower peninsula of Michigan. My grandparents built a cottage on Crystal Lake back in the 50’s that served as the focal point for my family’s summer rendezvous.

The little town of Frankfort is just five miles away and I consider it my second home. So it was with much interest that I read a news story about one of the city’s icons going up for sale. Frankfort is a port city (town) on Lake Michigan. The town has a long history as a bustling port; even once boasting more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the US. That happened during the logging boom of the middle 1800’s. Northern Michigan’s tall hardwoods supplied the insatiable building appetite in the midwest, especially Chicago after the Great Fire.

The Betsie river flows to Lake Michigan through Betsie Lake which provides a large natural harbor  perfect  for thriving seagoing businesses that include fishing and the shipping of cargo. When the railroads finished a spur line that terminated in the town across the bay from Frankfort, the car ferries began service across Lake Michigan in 1892.

With all this burgeoning shipping traffic, Frankfort harbor was in need of a breakwater to protect the harbors’ entrance from ferocious storms that would invariably blow up throughout the year. Of course once you build a structure out into the lake you had better put a light on the end to keep sailors from running in to it. In the winter of 1866, the Congress appropriated a bill of $90,000 for the construction of the piers. The work was commenced the following year by the Hubbel and Whitwood Company. Soon afterwards the lighthouse was built.” Memo’s of Betsie Bay – A history of Frankfort, by Charles M. Anderson

Frankfort Lighthouse on the north breakwater

That lighthouse has served mariners for over 140 years. The US Coast Guard has been in charge of operating and maintaining her all that time—until now.

From The Detroit Free Press The public may get a chance to buy a Michigan lighthouse if no government or nonprofit organization steps forward to preserve three that the U.S. Coast Guard no longer needs.

The latest round of excess lighthouses includes 11 around the country, three of them in Michigan: The Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse, the Middle Island Lighthouse, across Thunder Bay from Alpena, and the South Haven South Pierhead Lighthouse. Lighthouses can come in all shapes and sizes, but these three are all more traditional looking towers.

“I knew this day was coming,” said Josh Mills, Frankfort’s city superintendent. “Obviously, this structure means a lot to this community. It’s a signature structure in our community and we’ll do whatever is necessary to keep it.”

Mills already has talked to the Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse, near Frankfort, about taking the breakwater lighthouse under their wings, but hadn’t pressed for a commitment. He will now.

Lighthouse ownership is not an inexpensive proposition. The Frankfort lighthouse needs about $1 million in upgrades to make it a top-notch city attraction, Mills estimated, including restoring a catwalk on the breakwater, out to the lighthouse. The Point Betsie Light preservation group has so far raised $1 million for that structure’s maintenance.

Anybody want to buy a lighthouse?

Frankfort Lighthouse on the north breakwater

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