Monday, May 21, 2018

Sugar Island Buoy Depot & Rivers Lights

“Part I - How Much Do We Really Know?”

This two-part story, its longtime nautical history, those who served, photographs from the Cartographic Branch of the National Archives, in Maryland., United States Coast Guard Historian’s Office in Washington D.C. and a few email requests that were sent to me a number of months ago by a couple of devoted newspaper readers are all part of this story.

The first reader was asking me about: “Sugar Island Buoy Depot.” He wanted to know, if I could assist him with obtaining more information and images on the: “Sugar Island Buoy Depot?” Here is what he wrote in his email:

“We own the large brick former Oil House building which was part of the Buoy Station built in 1899 by the USLHE.  It is located on the St. Mary's River on the Southeast end of Sugar Island.  The brick keeper's house next door is owned by our neighbors. We have obtained over the years some USLHE historical logbook and images but are seeking more. The U.S. Government dock on the St. Mary's River in next to our home property and in front of our well-maintained brick "oil house". 

“We are not seeking a story to be told, but more historical detail and images of the Buoy Station pre-build, when it was built and after. Is something that you can help us with? We have been in contact with other associations but have not pursued the National Archives.”

Second Email:

Hi Scott:
“Let me know what you find if possible. It is something we need to pursue as well. Ours is a very young organization and we have had our focus on restoration projects for over 10 years. Not enough people who are willing to do the kinds of research needed. Any information you gather and would pass along we would welcome and try and connect it with sources on the island.”

Inquires, from my loyal readers fueled my passion to continue researching and writing about these forgotten places along the Great Lakes and those who once proudly served there. This is the type of subject, where I like to dig deep into a story that in the long run pays off big or at least I hope so? One never knows what will pop up on any given research session or if it’s past is really known. As an author and staff writer, and journalist, all I can do is present, what’s been given to me or what turns up during my research. So far, here is what I’ve been able to find out about: “Sugar Island Buoy Depot, it’s Leading Light & Charles W. Schulz.” Now that the National Archives in Washington D.C. & U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office has chimed in, I can add new updates to this story and even more content into Part II. So, with that said, let’s take an excursion to Sugar Island and see what turns up?

Short History Lesson - USLHE, GLA & USLHS

On the 7th day of August 1789, the passage of a: “New Government Act” was still about a month away from being ratified. From all indications if approve the act would establish: “The Lighthouse Act” and the: “Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.”  On the 2nd day of September 1789, the United States Treasury Department was founded after an: “Act of Congress” was approved.

Author’s Note:

            “The United States Congress passed the ninth piece of legislation, they also passed for the very first-time a: “Public Works Act.”

The United States Treasury Department was under the guidance of “Alexander Hamilton.” While he was in office: “The Lighthouse Act” was ratified. Per some historical data this: “Act” was present to Congress just prior to Hamilton taking his: “Oath of Office,” on the 11th day of September 1789. “The Lighthouse Act” specifies; it was the duty of the: “Secretary of the Treasury” (Alexander Hamilton) to oversee all the act's and provisions were carried out. This also included but not limited to the maintenance of all lighthouses, light-stations, aids to navigation and lifesaving stations, along with overseeing construction of the newly mandated lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay.

Author’s Note:

            “So, what do we know about Alexander Hamilton? Based on information I read through, the USLHE became one of Hamilton's many duties as Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton was very meticulous, detailed orientated and he also oversaw the development of the USLHE. Alexander Hamilton was known back then as the: “First Superintendent of Lighthouses.”

Our newly elected Secretary of the Treasury and members of the United States Cabinet would be responsible for managing all the government’s incoming revenue. During that same timeframe, the U.S. Department of the Treasury was also responsible for the overall operations of the newly created: “The United States Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE).”

Also, during that same year, Hamilton would be responsible for overseeing the transition and ownership of all the U.S. Lighthouses. Each of those lighthouses would be transferred to a government agency that would eventually became the: “General Lighthouse Authority (GLA).” In 1852, the U.S. Lighthouse Board was also created by the: “United States Department of the Treasury.” In the early 1850’s, Captain Samuel Ward was the man responsible for the construction of a wood dock on Sugar Island.

United States Lighthouse Depots

I think before we move any further with this story, we all need to have a clear understanding of the Tenth District, United States Lighthouse Service. In early 1871, Congress appropriated funds for the United States Army Corp of Engineers. Their directive was to build twelve lighthouse supply buildings or: “Depots” across the United States. Based on historical records, the Army Corp of Engineers completed all twelve of them. The second depot to be built was in Detroit, Michigan. This main depot was responsible for suppling all those lighthouses, light-stations and lifesaving stations across the Great Lakes. Each of these government depots for the most part were used by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and U.S. Lifesaving Service. Those Great Lakes Depots would receive, distribute and store the following items that would be distributed across the Great Lakes: “Supplies, Buoys, Concrete Sinkers, Construction Materials, Fuels, Lens, Oils, repair items for existing Lights or Fog Signal, Tenders & Light-Vessels.”

Quick Historical Note: Detroit Lighthouse Depot

So, what do we really know about the Lighthouse Depot located in Detroit, Michigan? In 1871, the Architect of record was: “Major Orlando Metcalfe Poe.”

He oversaw the construction of the Lighthouse Depot in Detroit Michigan. This three-story structure was a mixture of: “Romanesque Revival” and: “Italianate Styles.” The building measured forty feet high and sixty feet wide, with a gabled roof system supported by iron trusses.

In 1871, construction of the depot began and it was completed about three years later. The old wooden walkway that ran along main depot grounds were removed, and 2,459 square feet of concrete walkways were laid. The wood sills and floor along the porch area of the custodian's dwelling were also removed by the: “The United States Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE).” Over its lifetime a, 124 feet long tramway walk, and the walkway at the front of the main grounds were repaired. The ten-ton hoisting derrick inside the main depot was also reconstructed.

Author’s Note:

            “On the 7th day of March 1832, Orlando Metcalfe Poe was born in Navarre, Ohio. In 1856, Orlando graduated from West Point, Orange County, New York. His class ranking at West Point was listed as: “Sixth.” Later, Poe served with the United States Army Corps of Topographic Engineers surveying the upper Great Lakes.”

1897 - Discussions Prior to Congressional Act

It’s 1897 and there are ongoing Congressional discussions, reviews of numerous reports and other information documentation that are being read through by those responsible for those lighthouses, light-station, lifesaving stations and buoy depots within the: “Eleventh Lighthouse District.” Someone wrote the only district lighthouse depot was in Detroit, Michigan. This depot was position close to the southernmost part of the Eleventh District. It’s was also noted there were improvements made to the existing channels of the St. Mary’s River. These improvements were needed because of increases in river traffic along the main waterway. A decision was made to increase the number of: “Aids to Navigation” along that same waterway. Getting materials, buoys and other aids to navigation to that area has become very difficult.

1898 - Congressional Act Approved

On the 1st day of July 1898, another Congressional Act was approved by Congress for the amount of: $15,000.00.”  The funds were used to establish a new United States Government Lighthouse and a new Buoy Depot on Sugar Island, Michigan. Both government structures would need to be near: “Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.” These two new proposed government structures would be constructed along the easterly side, southern end of the: “St. Mary’s River” and a short distance from: “Rains Dock.” 

Author's Notes:

            “The Rains Dock was situated on the southeast side of Sugar Island on the St. Mary’s River. The wharf was completed in 1895.”

When the new government appropriation was approved, it included some site surveys, the ability to purchase land, detail drawings and specification for those structures that were in process of being prepared for review/approval. Within a very short time, several construction contracts were approved to do the following on the Sugar Island: “Site Work, Brick Work, Cut Stone, Cement, Building Materials, Iron Works, Illumination Devices & Labor.” 

The United States Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE) was responsible for furnishing all the transportation of construction materials, equipment, buoy’s, men that serve at the lighthouse & buoy depot.

Author’s Note:

            “In one of the documents I read through, there was this notation in 1889: “Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. Based on the information provided the buoy-shed on Sugar Island was completed last fall. The station could prove to be useful to the United States Lighthouse Service & Lifesaving Service.”

Sugar Island - Passage Problems

Sugar Island, Michigan sits just west of Thunder Bay Island and is two miles northeast of North Point. The map I looked at shows Gull Island is just north of Sugar Island. Small river crafts with well-seasoned captains and those who have good local knowledge of the dangerous passage between Sugar Island and North Point were cautious as they traveled long this body of water. For the most part these well-seasoned men and their vessels should be able to navigate there way without difficulty. Along the passage there are rocky ledges that jut out from the water’s edge, which makes it difficult if you decide to run the passage on the north side of: “North Point.” There is a small area of shelter from the northwest, northeast, and east if high winds become a problem. There are many good holding grounds along the waterway. Some of them are in six to ten feet of water and most of them exist between Sugar Island and Thunder Bay Island. To gain access you are better off entering this sheltered area from the: “South.” Entering from: “North” is; “Unsafe,” because of a large shoal and small islet that run between the northwest end of Thunder Bay Island and Gull Island.

1900 - Sugar Island Buoy Depot

o   Location: Sugar Island, Michigan
o   Status: Inactive (No Boats Onsite)
o   Established: 1900
o   Longitude: 46°20’05.43” North
o   Latitude: 84°07’10.20” West
In 1910, the: “Bureau of Lighthouses” was created and operated under the control of the: “United States Lighthouse Service (USLHS).” 

Sugar Island, St. Mary’s River, Michigan
Sugar Island Buoy Depot was once operated by the United States Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE) as a government depot that was responsible for receiving /storing buoys and sinkers used in the St. Mary’s River and Hay Lake Channel.

They were also responsible for fabricating buoys and concrete sinkers. Several storm houses were built at the front and rear entrances to the custodian's dwelling. A tramway was constructed that leading from the water’s edge of the wharf to the buoy shed. Inside the keeper’s dwelling, there was steel box drain that was connected to the kitchen sink. At one point in time it was taken up and reinstalled with clay pipe that drained outside the building. The area that was dug up had to be regraded for proper drainage.

Author’s Note:

“District Lamp Shop was responsible for all the repairs to the burners, illuminating apparatus, assembling the lamps, lens, etc.”

Leading Light & Channel Light

Sugar Island (Leading Light & Channel Light) Dates: “Unknown.” Light Numbers: 14040 & 13905, are both active, focal plane: fifty feet above the means of the river. Illumination: “White Light.” flashing pattern: three seconds: “On,” and three seconds: “Off.” Forty-nine feet square cylindrical steel skeletal tower. The Leading Light guides eastbound vessels into the channel. These lights sit on the west side of Sugar Island at the end of Leading Light Lane and is about 1½ miles north of the entrance to Lake Nicolet. Around 1900, the brick oil house was built near the St. Mary's River. It’s location still stands on the southeast side of Sugar Island. The current owner and site manager was listed as: “United States Coast Guard. USCG 7-14040.” The Leading Light stands in the interior of the island. The structure & light were constructed as an exact copy the: “Old Mission Point Lighthouse” near Traverse Bay, Michigan.

Author’s Note:

Author's Notes:
“The keeper’s dwelling on Sugar Island was close to the St. Mary’s River near Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan and it was once occupied by Buoy Depot Keeper Charles W. Schulz and a custodian.”

Early Years - Charles W. Schulz

On the 5th day of December 1871, Charles W. Schulz was born in Germany. There was another record that listed his place of birth as: “Persia.” His father Carl Schulz and his mother Wilhelmina (Karlmnefel or Kaniffle) Schulz welcome him with open arms. Based on genealogy records Charles was born in: “Germany.” These records were part of my search through on Those records also show the Schulz Family raised eleven children. One of them was Wilhelmina who died when she was just an infant. Charles W. Schulz received a good portion of his young education in Germany. In 1880, Carl Schulz, his wife and children left Germany and head towards the United States of America. Charles was only nine years old when his entire family made their long ocean voyage. Upon arrival, the Schulz’s settled into the: “City of Hamtramck, Wayne County, Michigan.”

Author’s Note:

“His father, Carl Schulz went to work at the: “Michigan Stove Company,” and remained there for just over eighteen years.” At the age of seventy-six, Carl retire and remained in the Detroit area until his death.”

Once in the United States Charles went to school in Detroit, Michigan until he was fourteen years old. While in the public-school system Charles was able to master the English language. Here where it gets a little odd. Based on some public records, Charles decided to take up a career as a “Sailor” aboard the: “Schooner N. C. West.”

On the 7th day of March 1901, in Detroit, Michigan, Charles W. Schulz married Gesin Elizabeth Tebelman. The couple were blessed with eight children: “Wilhemina (Wilhemine) Pearl, Carl Otto, Elcanora (Eleanor) Ruth, Beatrice May, Ida, Ralph, Albert and Richard William.”

Author’s Note:

            “Based on historical documentation Gesin Elizabeth (Tebelman) Schulz was the: “First Postmaster” on Sugar Island. Gesin started on the 23rd day of May 1906 and remained in her capacity until the 31st day of January 1946.”

Based on the United States City Directories from 1822 through 1995, Charles W. Schulz and his family were living in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan from 1913 through 1923. His occupation was listed as: “Res. Head, Weitzel Lock, U.S. Lighthouse Keeper.” The 1920 Federal U.S. Census, Charles’s age is listed as forty-eight, living on Canal. His occupation was stated as: “Lighthouse” and the industry Charles was working in was noted as: “Tender Government.” In 1922, Charles occupation was listed as: “Tailoress” living on Sugar Island.

Charles Schulz - U.S. Lighthouse Appointments

On the 11th day of December 1894, Charles W. Schulz was appointed as: “Acting Second Assistant” to the United States Naval Service at: “Whitefish Point Light-Station.” Charles served under Keeper: “Charles Kimball” who at that time was responsible for the station. On the 8th day of January 1895, Charles W. Schulz was: “Promoted” to the position of: “First Assistant.” On the 25th day of May 1897, Charles was: “Transferred & Promoted” to: “Huron Island Light-Station.” On the that same afternoon Keeper Charles W. Schulz took over the regains of his new position. On the 31st day of October 1900, Keeper Charles Schulz: “Resigned” as Keeper-in-Charge of Huron Island Light-Station.

Author’s Note:

            “What a perplexing situation. How does Charles W. Schulz decided to: “Resign” as a member of the United States Lighthouse Service and then get reinstated by the same division he left during 1900 or could the records be wrong?”

Homestead was named by Charles W. Schulz who was the Keeper-in-Charge of Sugar Island Lighthouse and Sugar Island Buoy (Supply) Depot. His rate while serving on Sugar Island was listed as: $50.00/month. In the archives, I found a record dated the 1st day of July 1905 that stated: “Charles W. Schulz” was listed as the: “Buoy Depot Keeper” on Sugar Island, Michigan. On the 16th day of April 1923, at the age of fifty-one, Charles W. Schulz passes away in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. On the 19th day of April 1923, he was laid to rest in Pine Grove Cemetery.

Special Thanks

I would like to thank a couple of my loyal readers, without each of you these old island structures and the history that surrounds: “Sugar Island Buoy Depot.” Without each of you, this area and government structures would have never been brought into the light of day. I would like to thank each of you for all your help and assistance with this story. I would also like to thank Nora Chidlow, U.S.C.G. Archivist, Cartographic Branch of the National Archives & Candice Clifford. All of them were kind enough to assist me with some of the research materials and looking for the photographs that were added into both parts of this story.

In Part II of this story will pick up towards the middle of 1899 and complete story just after the end of 1910. Who knows, by them we could know even more about: “Sugar Island Buoy Depot, the Treasury Department, Keeper Charles W. Schulz and talk a little about some important events that took place in and around the Buoy Station?”

Author’s Final Thoughts

As I continue to research those Great Lakes Lighthouse, Light-Stations, Lifesaving Stations and those who once served there, I can’t help feeling that eventually all these places and those that served, will become a: “Distant Memory.” Could that same fate be happening right now? Will the history of these buoy stations really fade away? What’s important to remember is this buoy station once played an important role in the United States Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE). Will this station and its important day to day operation be: “Lost Forever?” Through my experience: “Only Time Will Tell.”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

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