New Future for Third Oldest Lighthouse on the Great Lakes
Former alternative education site to be restored, protected, and then … ? That’s up to the Beaver Island community.
By Al Parker | Sept. 21, 2019
Charlevoix County and Networks Northwest have entered into a partnership to buy the historic Beaver Island Lighthouse School property.
“This is something that's been in the works for about two years,” explained Charlevoix County Administrator Kevin Shepard. “Last year it gained steam and we made the purchase in July. It's a real exciting project.”
The sale includes 171 acres of property, the lighthouse, 1,400 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline, and 11 total buildings. The purchase price was $215,000, with the county owning 51 percent and Networks Northwest 49 percent.
The county and Networks Northwest plan to work with the Beaver Island Historical Society and island residents to identify potential future uses of the site that will increase the presence of the historical asset and surrounding property.
“The property was owned by Charlevoix Public Schools since 1975,” said Networks Northwest CEO Matt McCauley. “Networks Northwest has been an operational partner, in the form of Beaver Island Lighthouse School, and steward of the property since 1978. We have a decades long relationship to the property and island community that we didn't want to disappear.”
“Moving forward, our mission for the property will be two-fold,” added McCauley. “One, to restore and protect the third oldest lighthouse in the Great Lakes and, two, to create an infrastructure and programming that increases the use and visibility of this public asset.”
There are several opportunities to use the location, according to Shepard, and the public is invited to a forum on Sept. 26 to offer input and raise questions. The meeting is set for 2pm to 4 pm at the Peaine Township Hall on Beaver Island.
Some immediate projects include restoring a rustic camp site on the property and repairing water damage to some of the buildings, according to Shepard.
“Given the historical nature of the Beaver Head Lighthouse Property, its value as a regional recreational asset and cultural significance the property holds to the residents of this county, we are very proud of this joint venture with Networks Northwest,” said Shepard.
The property had been used for more than 25 years as an alternative education site by Northwest Michigan Works!, a program of Networks Northwest. That program was suspended in 2016 due to changes in federal regulations and funding.
The county and Networks Northwest plan to work with the Beaver Island Historical Society and Island residents to identify potential future uses of the site that will increase the presences of the historical asset and surrounding property.
“Charlevoix Public Schools is pleased that the sale will likely mean preservation of this historic property,” said school superintendent Mike Ritter. “The property served an important purpose for many years as part of our school district, and it's great to know that it will remain in the hands of the public for generations to come.”
The Beaver Island Lighthouse, sometimes known as the Beaver Head Light Station, is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a significant site.
Located high on a bluff on the southern tip of the island, the light guided boats trying to safely navigate north, working their way between the island and Gray's Reef.
The 46-foot cylindrical tower was built in 1858, replacing an earlier one which had toppled over. In 1866, a yellow brick keeper's dwelling was added. In 1915 a fog signal building was constructed.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1962 when it was replaced by a radio beacon. Charlevoix Public Schools acquired the site from the U.S. Coast Guard for $1 in 1975 with an obligation to use the property for educational purposes. In 1978 the school district founded an alternative school for young people ages 16 to 21. An environmental and vocational education center was operated there with maintenance and restoration of the structure as part of the curriculum. That took place for the past 25 years with the school district working with Northwest Michigan Works! and Networks Northwest.
“The Partnership between Charlevoix County and Networks Northwest is now in place to restore the lighthouse and create a framework for all those who are in any way connected to the property, including island residents to explore long-term, sustainable ways for the Beaver Island property to be a dynamic public asset moving forward,” noted McCauley.