Wawatam Lighthouse in 2010
|Location||St. Ignace, Michigan|
|Year first constructed||1998|
|Year first lit||2006|
|Markings / pattern||White, with red trim|
|Height||52 feet (16 m)|
|Focal height||62 feet (19 m)[A]|
|Current lens||250 millimetres (9.8 in) Fresnel lens|
|Range||13 miles (21 km)|
|Characteristic||White flash 5 seconds|
Wawatam Lighthouse is an automated, modern lighthouse that guards the harbor of St. Ignace, Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac. It was originally erected near Monroe, Michigan as an iconic roadside attraction in 1998, and was first lit as an aid to navigation in St. Ignace in August 2006.
The current lighthouse was originally built in 1998 as an architectural folly at the Monroe Welcome Center on Interstate 75 near Monroe, Michigan in the southeastern corner of the state near the Ohio border. It was a functional lighthouse structure that was constructed far away from navigational waters as an element of the tourist heritage of the state.[B] In 2004, the Michigan Department of Transportation decided to renovate the center and declared the structure obsolete. It was scheduled to be demolished. After concerns were raised about this decision, the state government agreed that the structure should be dismantled and moved to a location where it would be useful. Serendipitously, while attending a conference for municipal officials, St. Ignace civic leaders learned of its availability. They successfully applied to serve as the location of the small tower, and the lighthouse was disassembled into five pieces and trucked more than 330 miles (530 km) from Monroe to East Moran Bay in St. Ignace.[excessive citations]
When it was at the Welcome Center, the hexagonal tower was painted white, with green and red trim. The original lighthouse was welded by a single man: Ed Morris, owner of the Morris Machine Shop in Bay City, Michigan, was chosen because of his skill as a welder. The original plans called for a 36 foot (11 m) tall structure, but he went to the larger height of 52 foot (16 m) to "challenge himself".[C] The lighthouse was one of three that he built for Michigan Welcome Centers. The other two were at New Buffalo, Michigan and Clare, Michigan. Morris worked with eight men and it took about three months to complete the projects. As Morris explained to the St. Ignace News, "His lighthouses were to be designed as museum-quality attractions at welcome centers ... to make an imposing first impression on visitors." They had a 12 foot (3.7 m) diameter base. Morris opined that anything in excess of 16 m was beyond his bailiwick. He also suggested that its steel structure should make it highly resistant to storms.
Transporting the structure by truck north from Monroe to St. Ignace cost $20,000. The move, repair and erection cost $50,000. Half was provided by the Michigan Waterways Commission. Small community donations paid the rest. The lighthouse was reassembled using a crane in 2006. Based upon a survey of residents, it was named Wawatam Lighthouse in honor of a railroad car ferry that was home-ported in St. Ignace for many decades, SS Chief Wawatam.[D] After reassembly, the Wawatam Lighthouse was relit on August 20, 2006. The lighthouse is now an official United States Coast Guard privately maintained aid to navigation, USCG 7-12608, on Lake Huron. Maintenance is by the city of St. Ignace. Public access is by walking the pier.
The chosen location for the rebuilt lighthouse was the former St. Ignace railroad pier, originally built in the 1800s as the home port of a train ferry. Operated by a joint venture that included St. Ignace's Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway, the ferry shuttled railroad cars across the Straits of Mackinac. Starting soon after its launch date in 1911, these duties were fulfilled by the 338 foot (103 m) long Chief Wawatam. Designed by Frank E. Kirby and built by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company, the Chief "carried as many as 28 rail cars per trip between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace." The ferry boat, in turn, had been named in honor of a leading Straits of Mackinac local resident of the 1700s, the Odawa clan leader Wawatam.
The St. Ignace dock collapsed in 1984, and in 1986 the successor railroad abandoned the last rail link to St. Ignace. This ended the ferry era. A truncated stretch of tracks and the track elevator (which oriented the tracks so the cars could be loaded on the ferry) are still visible. On the dock, within a short distance from the light, is a 6 foot (1.8 m) tall wooden statue honoring Chief Wawatam. Erected in 2012 by the city, it was designed and carved by Tom Paquin and Sally Paquin, local artists.
The new Lighthouse is duly noted on newer navigational charts. The light operates year round. It not only guides mariners, but is a beacon for snowmobilers traveling across the frozen Straits of Mackinac to and from Mackinac Island in winter. The lighthouse and harbor also serve Coast Guard ice breakers, e.g., the tug Katmai Bay[E] and heavy duty breaker Mackinaw.[F][excessive citations]
The lighthouse was the featured lighthouse of the Michigan Lighthouse festival in 2015. It is the subject of a jig saw puzzle. As of 2017, this was the latest addition to Michigan's 150 listed (including historical and now demolished) lighthouses. Prior to that, the Tricentennial Lighthouse in Detroit's William G. Milliken State Park was opened in 2003.
While many of Michigan’s historic lighthouses have been decommissioned and are mostly ornamental, Pure Michigan tells the story of how the Wawatam Lighthouse started out as an ornamental lighthouse and now actually has a job!
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