Some History of Granite Island Light Station

A few Granite Island Facts obtained from the National Archives in Washington, DC plus some information provided by relatives of former lighthouse keepers at the island:

September 10, 1866   Earliest Document
L.R. Vol. 191, p. 70 Granite Island, MI Commissioner of Lands
Rel. L. H. site on Granite Island
from: Department of Interior General Land Office

In answer to your letter Granite Island in Lake Superior was sold to Henry B. Lathrop, on 7th of May 1851 as fractional section _______ Twp. 50 N. of Range 25 West containing 2.25 acres, and hence, is not in our power to comply with the request in your letter for the reservation of said island for Lighthouse purposes.

Joseph S. Wilson

General O.M. Poe, Engineering Secretary
Lighthouse Board
Treasury Department

A lighthouse at Granite Island, off Marquette, is also much needed. This island, two and half acres in extent, is a granite rock, rising almost perpendicularly out of the lake, (Superior) with good water all around it. The Marquette light cannot be seen by vessels coming from Portage until they are almost abreast of the light and have passed Granite Island, which is directly in their track. A lighthouse with proper fog-signal would greatly facilitate navigation at night and during thick weather. An appropriation of twenty thousand dollars is recommended for this object.

1867   March 27
Michigan Legislative authorized the Governor to seize and procure the condemnation of land to be used by the U.S. Government for Lighthouse purposes.

1867   July 31st
Governor Henry H. Crapo, caused land to be appraised by 3 commissioners
Patent signed by Governor Crapo on April 16, 1868
ACT # 119 of the Legislature of 1867

Granite Island. ­ An appropriation is now available for establishing this important station; proceedings have been instituted for the condemnation of the whole island (which is very small) under the laws of the State of Michigan. As soon as these proceedings are complete and title vested in the United States, the work will be taken in hand and finished as soon as possible.

Granite Island. ­ By the proceedings in condemnation last year reported in progress, a valid title to the whole island (which only contains a couple of acres) has been vested in the United States, and a working party is now engaged in the construction of the buildings, and it is expected that they will be completed before the close of the season. The landing of the materials at this place was accompanied by more than ordinary difficulty. The island (granite rock) rises almost perpendicularly out of Lake Superior, with deep water all around it. Whatever was landed had to be moved from the steamer to the top of the island, which is sixty feet above the water. At ten feet above the water a platform was erected, from which a track was laid to the summit of the island, where a portable steam engine was placed, for the purpose of hauling up a track upon which all the materials were carried.
The transportation from Detroit, Michigan, of the materials used in the buildings and accessories, was done by the steamer Haze, (belonging to the lighthouse establishment,) which rendered very valuable service in this way.
Much of the top of the rock had to be removed by blasting, in order to get a suitable place for the lighthouse buildings.
It will be necessary to construct suitable davits with which to hoist the lighthouse boat out of the way of the sea.

1868   July 2nd
To Hugh McColloch from O.H. Browning, Attorney General ad interim

111. Granite Island. ­ The dwelling and tower are substantial structures of granite, from which the light was first exhibited at the opening of navigation last spring. Access to the lighthouse, and the landing of supplies upon this rock, (sixty feet above the lake,) is very difficult. Davits for hoisting the boat will be furnished this season.

502. Granite Island, Lake Superior. ­ This light serves the double purpose of marking a dangerous outlying rock, lying 12 miles to the northwest of the harbor of Marquette, and as a key to the approach to that harbor when coming from up the lake, and as it is outside of the general line of the trend of the coast, it is in foggy weather, in the absence of an efficient fog signal, a serious obstruction to navigation, and hence an estimate has been submitted for a fog signal for this light station.

On August 30th Granite Island Lighthouse Keeper Capt. Isaac P. Bridges drowned on his way from Garlic Point to his home. He was within sight of his home and his family saw him capsize and could not help him.

702. Granite Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. ­ The fog-bell taken from Thunder Bay Island has been erected at this station.

1200. Granite Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. ­ A landing derrick to facilitate the delivery of supplies, was put up. The timber was framed at the lighthouse depot in Detroit. Slight repairs were made.

William Wheatley drowned in a sailboat on his way out to visit his father James Wheatley.

1901   July 12
Request repairs to platform, which was knocked down some years ago by an extraordinary severe storm.

341. Granite Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. ­ The walk around the bell tower was rebuilt. A new boathouse was built at the upper end of the north boat landing, and the boat ways were extended 24 feet. A landing platform was built on the site of the old boathouse on the south side of the island. The walks and stairway leading from the boathouse to the dwelling, the walks around the tower and dwelling, and the trestle and winding winch of the draw-bucket hoist were rebuilt. Various repairs were made.

A letter dated October 5th reports the death of Asst. Keeper John D. McMartin, "October 2- At 8 a.m. Mr. J. McMartin went to boat house, got a boat and started to take it around to south side of island by [domicile ?] intending to go to Marquette. Fresh wind from N.E. Sea caught boat and dashed it against [illegible] of rocks, boat smashed to pieces and Mr. J. McMartin was drowned. Nothing was seen of body." Several days later, the log entry adds, "October 6- Marigold arrived 7 a.m. and landed a new boat to replace the one McMartin was lost out of."

363. Granite Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. ­ Concrete blocks for the erection of an oil house were made at the Detroit lighthouse depot and were delivered here.

360. Granite Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. ­ A concrete sea wall was built on the northeast side of the boat harbor. The boathouse was rebuilt in a more sheltered position, and 115 feet of new boat ways was provided. An oilhouse of 500 gallons capacity was built of concrete blocks. Minor repairs were made.

367. Granite Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. ­ The construction of a landing derrick was in progress when the year closed.

1907   March 4
Request to replace the present derrick which is "old and in dangerous condition". It should be renewed in steel.

1907   April 8
Bids accepted to furnish and delivery (1) derrick to Granite Island Light Station.

1908   January 27
Repair request for $520.00 to convert unfinished cellar of the dwelling into storerooms with necessary windows, cement, floor, etc., providing wall ventilators for tower.

1910   April 16th
Bid accepted for the Champion Iron Co. of Kenton, Ohio to furnish a fog bell tower, $1,063. This replaced the frame fog bell tower, which was, "in an advanced state of decay".

Changed the illuminant from oil to i.o.v. increasing candle power ­fixed white: 530 to 4500 and red flash: 800 to 20,000.

New concrete and steel platform replacing wood and new boat ways of steel on North side.

W.C. Foard tries to get property back, which was condemned from his decedents and was unsuccessful. Property was originally condemned in 1867.

1930   June 4th
Mr. John W. Kirkendall, assistant lighthouse keeper at Granite Island Light Station, requests permission to have his family at the station from June 20, 1930, to September 1, 1930.
Conditions on Granite Island during that period are very pleasant and it is recommended that his request be approved, subject to the provision of the Lighthouse Service Regulations, paragraph 442. The accommodations at the station are adequate.
-Chara Park
A letter written by Grant Kirkendall, son of John Kirkendall, can be seen by clicking this link.

1930   August 1st
Requisitioned new roof and installation of dormer for assistant and keeper's quarters.

1931   April 24th
Asst. Keeper Harry Keondway suffered a stroke and died April 3rd.

B McD. 1934 carved in granite Information from the grandson of keeper John A. McDonald about the granite carving in this photo from Granite Island:

The B. McDonald would have to be one of two people. John's 2nd son was Joseph N. He would have been 28 in 1934. Joseph had a son, Joseph W. He would have been 9 years old in 1934. Both had a "nickname" of Bunny which was used more than given name.
John's wife's name was Catherine. We know, from first hand accounts, that young Joseph N. accompanied John A. to the Island on many occaisons. My guess is that it is his carving in the walkway.
It appears that John A. retired around 1938/39. Perhaps when the keepers were removed from Granite. He would have had nearly 40 years service and was between 71 and 72 years of age.
The John and his wife resided in Marquette from 1927 through the rest of their lifetimes.
Lights of service for John A. were: Stannard's Rock, Two Harbors MN, Passage Island, and Big Bay.

Michael McDonald, Seabrook, MD,
A report written in 2002 by Michael McDonald, grandson of John A. McDonald, is available by clicking this link.

J.A. McDonald was the keeper of record. Reported losing boathouse and 20 ft. open boat over the winter of 1938.

F.A. Tinsler was the Asst. Lighthouse Engineer.

Lighthouse Digest published an article in July 1998 featuring the history of the Granite Island Light Station and its longest serving Lightkeeper James Wheatley. Written by Donald L. Nelson. Use this link to take a look. Lighthouse Digest's Web Site

A Granite Island Lighthouse keepers roster from 1872-1926 is available at this link: Keepers Roster.


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