Friday, April 14, 2017

Bois Blanc Island Lifesaving Station

“What Do We Know So Far?”

  I wrote a very brief blog posting a little more than four years ago. I published the posting on my blog page called the: “Great Lakes Lighthouse Historian”. The blog posting was titled: “Walker’s Point Lifesaving Station.” The brief posting at that time was based on some information I had gathered prior to its original publication on the 23rd day of February 2013. If memory serves me correctly, I think there were a couple of photographs, I received from the National Archives a couple of weeks prior to posting. Unfortunately, that was all documentation and photos I had at the time. Well it’s now a New Year (2017), and I took that very brief blog posting and updated it. Over the past few years, I went about gathering a bunch of new information and a few additional photographs that were not part of the original posting. So, with that in mind let’s see what we know about Walker’s Point Lifesaving Station so far?

Debates Over Land Parcels

       In 1821, Lucius became a: “Land Surveyor” for the: “Michigan Territory.” As time went on he was promoted to: “Deputy Surveyor General.” Six years later, Lucius Lyon’s went about handling the first General Land Office Survey of Bois Blanc Island. Lyon was also a United States statesman for the: “State of Michigan.” The United States Government and several private land holders wrote up a few reports on a few other plots of land. From what I have been able to gather there were other interests in Bois Blanc Island. One of the major players who seemed very interested in the island and those plots of land was Major Thompson, Commander of Fort Mackinac. He saw the island in two perspectives. The first being the useless swamp land that was not fit for plant trees. The other interest was the large forest areas that would help in keeping the fort and structures within the in good order.

Our U.S. Government would eventually establish a government structure on Bois Blanc Island. In 1829, the first United States Light-Station was constructed by the United States Government on the island. Historical records state the new government light-station was built on the North side of the Bois Blanc Island, near Mackinaw, Michigan.

Author’s Note:

          “The local area residences knew the island as: “Bob-lo.” Bois Blanc Island dimensions were listed as: Twelve (12) miles long, six (6) miles wide and was reported to have six (6) lakes.”

Island Progress (1880 through 1890)

      In 1883, a land parcel was acquired on Bois Blanc Island by the United States Government. After many hours of debate between the U.S. Lifesaving Service, a few military officials stationed at Fort Mackinac and our U.S. Government team went about discussing certain land parcel. They also talked about a few of the surrounding forest areas where the original land survey of the island was done. Those debates continued into how the parcels would be divided and what parties would get what parcels of land. From what was written down each of the parties would entertain purchasing a single parcel of land. During their ongoing debate, all sides decided they would need to purchase some additional land parcels in 1887 and again in 1888.

In 1884, the United States Government began establishing settlements on Bois Blanc Island. “The Cheboygan Democrat Newspaper” stated in 1884 there were some seventy-one (71) families now living on the island. In the newspaper article, I read through, it talked about how within the first year, Bois Blanc Island was transferred from a United States Army wood storage area to a community of island settlers. The article also stated that from 1884 through 1894 the Bois Blanc Island saw its largest population gain.

Author’s Note:

"Bois Blanc Island is located as part of the “Straits of Mackinaw” and is southeast of Mackinaw Island. Back then most of the island was owned by the State of Michigan. On Bois blanc Island there were deep lush forests of White & Norway pine that tower high over the island. Some tree on the island were some two hundred feet high.”

Lifesaving Station

        On the 19th day of June 1886, Bois Blanc Island (Walker’s Point) Lifesaving Station was established by an “Act of Congress.” In 1891, the lifesaving station was about to be constructed on the east side of Bois Blanc Island, Historical records show the station would be constructed about the midpoint of the island. Those same records state the lifesaving station would be built about five miles southwest of Bois Blanc Lake and was near Lake Huron’s rocky coastline. The U.S. Lifesaving Service relied on a well know Architect and College Professor, who was responsible for designing many of the U.S. Government structures along the Great Lakes. Bois Blanc Island (Walker’s Point) Lifesaving Station was designed by Architect Albert B. Bibb. The station design was drawn up as a: “Marquette Type Design.” Bibb’s “Marquette Type Design” consisted of a gable style structure with triangular shape dormer windows and small service porches with two hand turned support columns. When this type of design was designated by Bibb for the U.S. Lifesaving Service there was a: “Boathouse” built on the site and it resembled the keeper’s quarters.

Author’s Note:

       “Albert B. Bibb served as the chief architect for the U.S. Lifesavings Service and U.S. Coast Guard. He was responsible for designing numerous life-saving stations for the government agency. His salary between 1904 & 1905 was listed at: $1,000. Bibb was a professor of architecture for a Catholic University.”

      “Bois Blanc Island or Walker’s Point Lifesaving Station” as some of the local islanders knew it as was established prior to the United States Government appointment of: “Keeper-in-Charge George S. Cleary.”

George S. Clearly

      On the 29th day of October 1890, George S. Cleary was appointed to his position as: “Keeper-in-Charge” of Bois blanc Lifesaving Station. Cleary was responsible for a crew of eight surfmen who served alongside him. Over time the records only list eight (8) surfmen from the 14th day of April through the 30th day of June 1905. From the 1st day of July to the 14th day of December in 1905 there were still eight (8) surfmen assigned to Bois Blanc Island Lifesaving Station. This begs the question was there a change in the lifesaving station personnel roster? From all accounts in 1915, George S. Clearly was still the “Keeper-in-Charge” of Bois Blanc Island (Walker’s Point) Lifesaving Station.

Author’s Note:

      “When Keeper Clearly resigned, transferred or retired from his position is still being researched. Hopefully in my next newspaper article or on my blog, I should be able to fill in that blank.”

Rescue Operations

       On the 14th day of April 1905, the lifesaving station crew was called out to an accident scene. Charles Shaw had one of his hands almost completely amputated. From all accounts, Shaw’s accident and the injuries, he suffered was at one of the local sawmills. The station logbook entry states: “Shaw" came to the station and asked if he could be taken to Cheboygan, Michigan for medical treatment.” Keeper Clearly and couple of his surfmen used the steam launch to cross the: “Straits of Mackinaw.” Prior to leaving one of the surfmen filled a container and place his almost amputated hand in heavy drift ice. Within a short period Clearly, two (2) of his surfmen and Charles Shaw landed safely on the mainland in Cheboygan, Michigan. Keeper Clearly and his two (2) surfmen moved Shaw from the steam launch to dock where a hospital surgeon took charge of his amputation.
Steamer Screw W.D. Rees

Author’s Notes:
     “Steamer Screw W.D. Rees. U.S. No.: 81535. Gross Tonnage: 3,760, Net Tonnage: 2,992. Built in Cleveland, Ohio & in 1896 her home port was listed as: Cleveland, Ohio. Dimensions: 396’ long by 45’ wide by 23’ dept., Classification: Freight Service. Crew: Twenty (20), Horsepower: 1,300. U.S. Merchant Vessel listing in: 1913”

STEAMER W.D. REES (Stranded & Leaking)

      On 29th day of April 1905, the Steamer W.D. Rees was just two (2) miles south of the lifesaving station. On the 30th day of April 1905, in Cheboygan, Michigan the Steamer W. D. Rees was owned by the: “Wilson Transit Company.” At the helm of the Steamer was Captain E. R. Morton who found was now stranded on Lake Huron at Poe's Reef that is close to entrance to the Straits of Mackinaw. The W.D. Rees at that time was laden down with coal they received for Green Bay, Wisconsin. Records show the steamer hit the rocky bottom and was now leaking badly. Those same records also state the wrecking tug “Favorite” is on scene and now was rendering assistance the W.D. Rees.

Critical Medical Rescue Needed

     On the 5th day of September 1905, Keeper Clearly proceeded to Cheboygan, Michigan in the lifesaving station’s supply boat. His task was to return with a physician to render medical attention to a girl who was critically injured.
Steamer Thomas Kane

On the 11th day of December 1905, just one (1) mile south of Walker’s Point Lifesaving Station the Steamer Thomas Kane, Mackinaw City, Michigan was in trouble. The Thomas Kane at 5:40 p.m. was between Cheboygan and Mackinaw City. Aboard the Kane were six (6) passengers, the U.S. Mail and her faithful crew. Historical records state the Steamer was stranded because her propeller shaft sheared off. The captain began calling for help. Captain Clearly along with his volunteer surfmen who at that time were inactive, because the shipping season was closed a few weeks earlier. Clearly managed to get a few of his volunteer’s together to assist the Thomas Kane. Clearly and his crew manned the surfboat and headed towards the steamer. Once on scene, Captain Clearly threw the captain a towline and waited until the line was secured between the two (2) vessels. The Thomas Kane was towed in the harbor and anchored securely to the dock. The flowing morning the Kane was towed by another tow vessel into Cheboygan for repairs.

Sailing Scow Capsizes

     On the 4th day of December 1898, a letter was written to J.G. Kiah, Superintendent Tenth Lifesaving District, Sand Beach, Michigan, from A.L. Todd, owner of Sailing Scow: “White Foam.” Here is my interruption on of Todd’s letter to Superintendent J.G. Kiah.

My Dear Sir:
Please permit me to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the heroic and valuable service rendered to me by Captain George S. Cleary and crew of dedicated surfmen station at Bois Blanc Lifesaving Station. The team went to work releasing my sailing scow: “White Foam” that recently was caught in high gales that were coming off Lake Huron. My scow was water-logged and capsized while anchored some distance from the shore on the north side of Bois Blanc Island. I requested aid from Captain Cleary and his team. With his willingness, he and his team promptly responded. After working continuously for many hours in the frigid cold and being soak to the bone, his team continued to work all night long. As the hours passed Clearly and his team succeeded in righting “White Foam.”  Eventually she was landed safely behind McRae's Dock.

I am satisfied that most men under these circumstances would have abandoned my sailing scow, that would have eventually broken up under the heavy seas, but not so with Captain Cleary and his dedicated team of surfmen. In my opinion Captain Clearly is not made that way. One would have thought by the interest Clearly and his team has they all have a manifested in the White Foam. The persistency and determination which all of them demonstrated you would think they each had some valuable in the vessel. I estimate that my interest of thousands of dollars was at stake and not because it was a small craft. From my vantage point Clearly tugged and pulled at the lines with his own hands until they were swollen and blistered, and when appealed to by the late captain to knock off on account of the cold and the weariness of the men, he answered, "We'll knock off when this boat is behind that dock, and not before!" Captain Cleary is clearly the right man stationed in the right place. Cleary’s characteristics are, he is very courteous, super kind, and he is ready to render any service within his power. In the hands of such men, the Lifesaving Service can’t fail to be of great value to the people.
Very respectfully, A. L. Todd, Owner of Scow White Foam.

Lifesaving Station Rebuild

     Sometime during 1920, Bois Blanc Island (Walker’s Point) Lifesaving Station was rebuilt. This reconstruction brought it back to exactly what the original station that constructed in 1890.

Land Parcels Returned & Cutting Prohibited

      On the 25th day of June 1956, all the land parcels apart from: “0.53 acres” were returned to the island officials. I’m not quite sure of the date, but the records indicate the in mid-1950’s all woodcutting operations on Bois Blanc Island were stopped. The forest trees that were cut down were ferry over to Mackinaw Island. Cutting of timber and ferrying the lumber to other mainland destinations was now: “Prohibited.”

Ownership Change

      In 1960, Bois Blanc Island (Walker’s Point) Lifesaving Station was turned over to the General Service Administration (GSA) located in Washington DC.

Author’s Final Thoughts

     If you would like to learn more about “Bois Blanc Island (Walker’s Point) Lifesaving Station,” or others lighthouses along the “Great Lakes” come checkout my Google Blog called: “Great Lakes Lighthouse Historian” or my Google Website called: “Great Lakes Historian.”

If you would like to have your story told or want to know more about a family member who served along the Great Lakes, please email your request to: or send a formal request to me as follows: Scott W. Bundschuh, Author/Historian, P.O. Box 267, La Grange, Illinois 60525-0267.

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