By Noah Fowle
Blown away by a storm in 1924, Petoskeys last lighthouse was later
replaced with a more utilitarian designed directional light. Yet a local
effort is growing to find a place for a replica structure somewhere along
the citys Little Traverse Bay coastline.
Last summer, the long-awaited repairs to Petoskeys breakwater were
finally fin-ished when the Army Corps of Engineers received additional
funding from the federal government as part of the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act. In order to complete the work, the Petoskey Pier Light
was removed from its station at the end of the break-wall. Seeing the
blank pier inspired a pair of local lighthouse enthusiasts,
Gordon Bourland along with his wife, Carolyn, to begin floating the idea
of bringing back a version of the 40-foot lighthouse to the breakwater
that was first erected there in 1912.
We are lighthouse fanatics, Bourland explained. Weve traveled all over
Michigan and the United States to
visit lighthouses. There seems to be something that draws people to them.
Following the successful collaboration between Emmet County and the Great
Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association to restore McGulpin Point Lighthouse
along the Straits of Mackinac last year, the Bourlands contacted
Dick Moehl, the president of the Mackinaw City based association, to see
if a similar effort could be undertaken in Petoskey.
Although Petoskeys pagoda-style light-house was relatively
short-lived, Moehl said the hexagonal structure was a popular one around
Lake Michigan, with four others built along the Wisconsin coast. However,
none of them remain today.
Terry Pepper, the executive director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers
Association, said the unusual design of the lighthouse, along with the
lighthouse communitys enduring affection for the structures would be more
than enough to draw people to the area.
There are untold thousands of people who have an affinity for lighthouses
of all types, he said. They go around the country photographing any
lighthouse they can find, even faux lighthouses, or replicas. I believe
people will come to Petoskey to photograph such a unique design, its
Before the Moehl and the rest of his staff took complete control of the
project, the Bourlands presented the idea to the Little Traverse
Historical Society and the Emmet County Historical Society. Both groups
may not have been able to pledge any financial support, but they did
approve of the ultimate goal. Today, there is a general agreement
throughout Petoskey that a replica structure would be a positive addition
to the area.
Allen Hansen, Petoskeys director of parks and recreation, met
with Moehl and Pepper earlier this month and scheduled a public discussion
on the issue during the parks and recreation regularly scheduled monthly
meeting on Monday, May 10. Despite the citys inability to afford paying
for the project, Hansen said his department could handle the
responsibility of maintaining the structure if it is placed in one of the
citys parks. He added that his department is enthusiastic about the
project and that the lighthouse was mentioned in the departments most
recent master plan, completed in 2008.
We want to see how the community feels about this, he said. This is
something out of our past and it would help people understand our maritime
Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce President Carlin Smith was also at
the preliminary meeting and said he thought the project would be a victory
for residents, tourists and businesses alike.
One thing a community needs is focal points, things that are great
symbols of the town, Smith said. The clock tower is a nice one, and a
lighthouse replica would be another.
Moehl said he understands the citys position and hopes to find a suitable
location for the structure.
Were looking for approval and support, he said. Were not looking for
any funding, but well take any we can get.
Supporters of the project were dismayed to learn in December that the
United States Coast Guard would not consent to placing any sort of replica
over the existing pier light, which functions as an official aid to
navigation. The original intent may have been to see a lighthouse replica
installed in the same place as the original, but the
Coast Guards decision carried at least one silver lining - the estimated
cost of the project dropped significantly once the need to fasten it to
the breakwater was eliminated.
Pepper said the latest figure supplied by Moran Iron Works, which
completed significant restoration work on the McGulpin Point Lighthouse,
hovered around $200,000. Still, Pepper said that figure could not be
considered exact because it is based on the current price of steel and
pointed out it would be responsible to raise as much as $300,000 to ensure
the project is completed.
If the city will agree to this and select a location, perhaps all they
would need to do is create a base and install electricity to put some sort
of light there, he said. We would raise funds to purchase materials and
have it brought to Petoskey. The only question is how much responsibility
down the road the city would want to take on upkeep. Our goal is to set up
an account that the cost of maintenance could be withdrawn from. It would
be a win-win, the city gets something and lighthouse lovers get
Although the economic climate may not be the brightest for an undertaking
of this kind, the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association has a track
record of success with similar projects including work at
the McGulpin Point Lighthouse, the St. Helena Island Lighthouse and
the Cheboygan River Front Range Light.
Given the current state of things, I would have said this would be pretty
tough, Smith said. But I looked into the eyes of Dick Moehl and he seems
to have the wherewithal and the motivation to do it. Plus, the people that
really value the history of the area will get behind this. Its worth
RESTORING AN ERA
While the McGulpin Point Lighthouse, which sits on a tract of land that is
the oldest deeded piece of property in Emmet County, has a more storied
history than its Petoskey counterpart, Jim Tamlyn, chairman of the Emmet
County Board of Commissioners, agreed the replica effort is a worthy one.
It would be a wonderful addition to bring that era back, he said.
Tamlyn said attention swelled with the McGulpin Point Lighthouse and the
restoration project still garners donations of 1890s style furniture to
help outfit the lighthouse as historically accurate as possible. Although
Emmet County pays for the maintenance of the McGulpin Point Lighthouse and
it is staffed by paid guides, Tamlyn pointed out that in its first summer
the landmark was already drawing people to the area, who donated about
$9,000 to help with its upkeep.
By the fall we were getting people who were coming to the lighthouse as a
destination from other states, he said. That is economically
significant when they start spending a day or two in the area. Adding a
lighthouse in Petoskey would be just one more reason to visit the area.
Bourland added that in order to make the effort a complete success, an
educational component must accompany any structural replica.
It would need a plaque explaining it and literature that says this was
something that was there and tells the whole story, he said. If you have
a replica and its in place where you can see the existing light and the
bay, it would make a great tourist destination. There would be people who
make a little bypass in their travels just to see it.