Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to the Windmill Point Lighthouse

Last week we presented the history of Windmill Pointe, one of the most historic areas in the Grosse Pointe communities. The origin of the area dates back to 1712.

This week we stay close to Windmill Pointe as we explore another iconic structure, the Windmill Point Lighthouse – a light that has stood at the entrance of Lake St. Clair for around 180 years.

The year is 1837. The customs collector in Detroit, Andrew Mack, had purchased a nearly four-acre site at the confluence of Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River for a lighthouse to be constructed. That same year Congress had appropriated $5,000 (around $133,000 today) for “building a lighthouse on Windmill Island, at the outlet of Lake St. Clair”. 12 months later, the lighthouse had been constructed and was in operation. Based on research by http://lighthousefriends.com we understand the tower was built from stone, and was nearly forty-four feet tall. John Martin was the first light housekeeper, a position he held from 1838-1842.  A war veteran of 1812, Mr. Martin resided in the brick built one-and-a-half-story residence that had been constructed in close proximity to the tower.

By 1848 five lamps and fourteen-inch reflectors had been added, and were being used in the lantern room to produce a fixed white light. In 1856 the lighthouse received a sixth-order lends, and in 1867 the lens was replaced by a larger fifth-order lens that produced a fixed white light, which varied every ninety seconds by a red flash. That same year a storeroom, constructed from stone, was added to the tower. Source: http://lighthousefriends.com.

By 1873 both the tower and the residence needed replacing. The lighthouse board subsequently requested $18,000 (around $420,000 today) for the construction of a new tower and dwelling. The brick tower, which was painted white, was completed in the fall of 1875, situated eighteen feet west of the original location. It was nearly 57 feet tall, and was connected to the ten-room keeper’s residence by a fifteen-foot-long covered passage.

In 1879 the construction of a road between Windmill Pointe from Jefferson was completed. This helped make the lighthouse far more accessible. Around 1890 a solid concrete wall, measuring 567 feet long and 5 ½ feet tall had replaced the old wooden jetty. Additional modifications were also made to the site, which included a sewer pipe running from the dwelling to Lake Shore. A news lens was also installed in the tower, thus providing a fixed white light that varied every fifteen seconds with a red flash. Research courtesy of: http://lighthousefriends.com. In 1891 a set of wooden range towers were located on the grounds of the lighthouse. Their installation brought about the need to hire an assistant keeper. The image below shows the lighthouse and keeper’s residence in 1900 – courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. The second photo shows the tower, with the original range lights, courtesy of Michel Forand (http://lighthousefriends.com.)

Sixteen years later, in 1907, the wooden range towers were replaced by steel ones, the front tower was 42 feet tall, and the rear one 56 feet tall – both towers produced a fixed red light. A year later the keeper’s residence was expanded with an addition of eight rooms to accommodate the assistant keeper. The photo below is from 1913 – Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

As the 1920’s arrived so did electric lights – installed in the dwelling, the range light and the lighthouse, however things were about to change dramatically. In the late 1920’s the Public Health Service acquired the land, having done a deal for a land swap with the Lighthouse Service. The land was to be the new site of the new Marine Hospital. While the site was prepared for the construction of the hospital a new one-story high tower, with an unwatched light, was constructed. The light in the new tower, consisting of two, 300-watt, 110-volt lamps, was powered by commercial current, and turned on and off automatically. In 1930 the range lights were discontinued, while the old lighthouse, (constructed in 1875) was torn down in 1933. Below is a photo of the new tower, 1933, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Marine Hospital – pictured below courtesy of http://lighthousefriends.com.

The Marine hospital opened in the 1930’s. In 1969 it was converted to a clinic, and closed in 1981. Shortly after the building was demolished, the grounds were deeded to the City of Detroit, and Mariner Park opened. Today, the self-operating lighthouse tower, built in 1933, still remains, the only historic structure left on this piece of land – image courtesy of Wikipedia.

We will continue the story of Windmill Pointe next week as we take a glimpse at some of the magnificent mansions that were built during the 1920’s.

 

Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2019 Katie Doelle

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