Careful cleaning and repainting of the oldest lighthouse on Lake Superior’s notorious “Shipwreck Coast” will complete a painstaking restoration of the storied site, under a contract recently awarded to a Michigan contractor.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society awarded the $67,000 contract to Mihm Enterprises Inc., of Hamilton, MI.
The Wildwood Cabin (left); Chris Winter (right)
|The lighthouse was established in 1849 and the current tower built in 1861. The Shipwreck Museum on the grounds opened in 1987.|
Mihm’s bid to repair, clean and paint the lighthouse was less than half that of the only other bidder. However, the society was not obligated to use the low bidder.
Mihm is a general contractor specializing in historical restorations. The firm won Governor’s Awards in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for historical lighthouse restoration projects.
From Lincoln to the Edmund Fitzgerald
Erected in 1861 during President Lincoln’s administration, the Whitefish Point Light Station is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. Established by Congress and first lit in 1849, the lighthouse illuminates a critical turning point for all vessel traffic entering and leaving the extreme southeastern end of Lake Superior.
Along the 80-stretch of shoreline known as “Shipwreck Coast” and the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes,” the waters of Whitefish Point bear at least 200 of the 550 known major shipwrecks lying on the bottom of Lake Superior.
The site’s victims include the 29 crew members of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975 and was immortalized one year later in the Gordon Lightfoot ballad.
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
|The remains of more than 200 shipwrecks, including the legendary SS Edmund Fitzgerald, lie in the waters off Whitefish Point Light Station.|
The bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald was recovered in 1995 and now is among the many artifacts displayed in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which opened in 1987 on the lighthouse grounds.
The U.S. Lighthouse Service operated the lighthouse from 1849 until 1923, when the U.S. Coast Guard established a Lifeboat Rescue Station here. The services merged in 1939. The Lifeboat Station was closed in 1951, and the Coast Guard withdrew in 1970.
Three years later, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but preservation efforts did not begin until 1980, when the township approached the historical society.
Scope of Work
The present tower is the third and final part of the structure to be rehabilitated.
The lantern, watch deck, and portions of the exterior were renovated in the first two phases. That work included painting and restoration of the tower’s lower section and the lantern and watch room at the top.
The final phase involves repairing, cleaning and coating portions of the 80-foot skeletal metal tower. The work includes the uppermost section of the iron frame; the exterior surfaces of the metal cylindrical stairway shaft; the counterweight shaft; and the interior surfaces of the cylindrical stairway shaft, including the stair tread and handrail components.
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