In 1867, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers dredged the Saginaw River channel so that larger vessels could navigate the river. In 1876. a pair of lighthouses were erected in a range light configuration. It is generally believed (but not well documented) that the Saginaw River lighthouse was the first place where range lights were installed.
The “front” range light was constructed on a square timber crib beside the western river bank, and took the form of a 34-foot tall painted-white pyramid framework of timber similar in design to that being used for pierhead beacons throughout the district at the time. With its upper half sheathed, a small enclosed room was created beneath the gallery for the storage of oil and supplies, in which the keeper could seek shelter while tending the light during inclement weather conditions.
The “rear” range light was constructed 2,300 feet south of the mouth of the river. Because of swampy ground, timber piles had to be driven deep into the ground to provide a solid foundation on which timber forms for the concrete base could be erected and filled. Atop this concrete foundation, a square two-story Cream City brick Lighthouse keeper’s dwelling 26 feet 6 inches in plan was constructed. Integrated into the northwest corner of the dwelling, a tapered 53 feet tall square tower with double walls housed a set of prefabricated cast iron spiral stairs. Winding from the cellar to the lantern, these stairs also serve as the only means of access to the first and second floors by way of landings on each floor. Each was outfitted with tightly fitting arch-topped iron doors designed to stem the spread of fire between floors. The living quarters consisted of a kitchen, parlor and oil storage room on the first floor, and three bedrooms above. The tower was capped with a square iron gallery, supported by five cast iron corbels on each of its four sides. An octagonal cast iron lantern was installed at its center, with a fixed white fourth-order Fresnel lens placed at a focal plane of 61 feet.
The range lights were converted to electricity in 1915. The light in the rear tower was deactivated in 1960 when a new channel was dredged requiring a new set of range lights to mark it. The Structure was used as the residence for men assigned to the associated US Coast Guard facility until the 1970s. At that time, the Coast Guard Station was moved across the river to a new building in order to have more space. The lighthouse remained empty until 1986. Dow Chemical Company, which owned the surrounding land, purchased the facility and boarded it up. In 1999, the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society approached Dow to collaborate to restore the lighthouse and open it to tourists.
During the tall ship celebration in Bay City it was opened to tourists and I was fortunate to get a tour of it and some photos. It will be opened once again this year to visit during the tall ship celebration, you can find out more at the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society facebook’s page HERE
you can get a print of this pic or any of my images HERE
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