Lake Erie Lighthouses “Monroe, Michigan Lighthouses Lost Forever” (Updated)
Monroe Harbor Lighthouse, Monroe Light-Station and Otter Creek Lighthouse commonly known as: “LaPlaisance Lighthouse” once stood as a beacons of light along the shores of Lake Erie near Monroe, Michigan.
The mouth of the: “Raisin River” was once quit shallow as it wound its way along the marshes and sandy shoals of: “LaPlaisance Bay.” Shipping and passenger vessels coming inbound from Lake Erie would first dock at: “LaPlaisance Bay,” off load their cargo, luggage and passengers. In most cases passengers would climb board horse drawn carriages, wagons and railcars prior to their departure towards to the: “City of Monroe, Michigan Territory.” There was another problem that continued to plague those trying to get to Monroe! When the winds came out of the West, Lake Erie water levels had a tendency to drop off some three to five feet. When this situation occurred allowed small boats could make their way in the “LaPlaisance Bay.” In 1834, there was a petition for put forth to the Congress requesting a canal that would open up the mouth of the Raisin River into Lake Erie. Congress approved the petition for: $100K and the canal project was underway. As prescribed by the original appropriations, the Army Corps of Engineers dredge out the new canal in various stages. In 1834, the canal project was finally completed and its new location was some four miles from the original entrance point into “LaPlaisance Bay.” The Lighthouse Board, Fifth Auditors Office recommended a: “Beacon Light” be place at the mouth of the: “Raisin River.”
“In the Michigan Territory you now have a manmade canal and harbor along the shore of Lake Erie. This should allow vessels easy access to Monroe, Michigan.”
Otter Creek Lighthouse was the first lighthouse located near Monroe, Michigan Territory. Andrew Mack, Superintendent in Detroit, Michigan was responsible for constructing the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters at: “Otter Creek.” In 1829, the U.S. Lighthouse Service completed all construction duties associated with the lighthouse. Costs incurred by the U.S. Government to build this government structure was listed as: “$3,947.78.” Back then the structure was commonly known as “LaPlaisance Lighthouse”. John A. Whipple was appointed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service as the first Keeper-in-Charge. During the winter months, it was well documented that once the Lake Erie was frozen over, pioneer Charles Lanman and some of his good friends would ice skate their way along the Raisin River.
“On the 14th day of June 1819, Charles Lanman was born in Monroe, Michigan Territory. During his life, Charles was an author, government official, artist, librarian & employer. In 1845, Charles was the editor of the: “Monroe Gazette.”
Charles and his friends would always end up at Keeper’s John Whipple’s. Once inside his warm dwelling, they would make their way to his parlor. Once everyone was seated Keeper Whipple would entertained his noted guests. The other well-known reason why this group of men stopped by was, Keeper Whipple would always serve them dinner.
“With the completion of the new canal, Otter Creek Lighthouse wasn’t really needed anymore.”
on the 9th day of March 1764, John A. Whipple was born in Manchester, Massachusetts. His parents were Joseph Whipple and Eunice (Fairfield) Whipple. As I researched his records, I came across a U.S Census record listing him as an active member of the: “Sons of the American Revolution.” His SAR number was listed as: “3073” and his rank at that time was: “Major.” In 1796, he migrated from Manchester to the: “Northwest Territory.” On the 11th day of January 1800, John at the age of thirty-five married: “Archange Le Pelletier.” The couple had one daughter, her name was: “Sophia Catherine Whipple.” In 1809, he was appointed as an: “Associate Judge, Michigan Territorial District.” From 1818 to the end of 1825, John was the proprietor of “Mansion House.” Starting in 1826, and continuing through 1836, Whipple registered: “Michigan Deeds.” The 1830 U.S. Census, listed his residence in: “Monroe, Michigan Territory.” On the 19th day of May 1836, John passed away at the age of sixty. His remains were laid to rest in: “Memorial Place Cemetery, Monroe, Michigan.”
I can’t say, if Keeper John A. Whipple death occurred while at the lighthouse, during a rescue or at home.”
On the 12th day of August 1848, Congress approved: $3,522 for a new lighthouse to be constructed at Monroe Harbor. The new structures would be completed prior to the start of the 1849 navigation season. During that same year, “Otter Creek Lighthouse” was “Decommissioned.” The abandoned lighthouse sat empty until 1854. John Jacob Luft purchase “Otter Creek Lighthouse” from the U.S. Revenue Collector Strong for the sum of: $10.00. In 1870, Mr. Luft: “Dismantled” the lighthouse and adjoining structures. He used the rubble stones as the foundation material for his new house and several other structures that were situated on his land.
“Was Otter Creek Lighthouse lost due to our government’s lack of fore thought? Or was it because they originated the designed and constructed of the Lighthouse for what some called: the “Government Canal?”
The structures were maintain by the U.S. Government personnel now serving at: “Monroe Harbor Lighthouse.” The beacon at that time was listed as: “Fixed Red” and was visible about thirteen miles out into Lake Erie. The fuel use to keep the light illuminated was listed as: “Oil.” Eventually the oil was replaced by what the inspector deem as: “Turn of Century Electricity.” In 1860, the original keeper’s quarter was constructed. It was rebuilt some thirty three years later. In 1916, the fuel delivery system to the light was changed to: “Automated Gas Lighting System.” During that same year the keeper’s quarters was: “Abandoned.” In 1922, the: “Harbor Lighthouse” was: “Dismantled” and the materials were hauled away.
“Today there is nothing left of: “Monroe Harbor Lighthouse!”
On the 10th day of June 1842, Peter Gussenbaur was born in Monroe, Michigan Territory. According to his records there were six people in his family. Peter was married twice. His first wife: “Eliza Rathburn.” While in Toledo, Ohio, Eliza gave birth to their son: “John R. Gussenbaur.” She passed away in Fairchild, Michigan Territory in 1864. Peter’s second wife, “Marian W. (Winslow) Bumpus” passed away at age fifty-three. The couple had two children: “Forrest A. Gussenbaur (1872 to 1923)” and “Eliza Gussenbaur.”
What do we know about Keeper Peter Gussenbaur and his time at Monroe Harbor Lighthouse? Well let’s dig into his past and see where it takes us. According to my research, he told humorous stories, he always had a witty remark and he was very blunt. Peter was always courteous to strangers or visitors. He was cheerful, accommodating to all who needed a favor providing he could be of some assistance. While serving as keeper, Peter always took the time to welcome visitors to lighthouse. He always took the time to explain his duties, even though his time was limited. Peter was well known to those sailors, yachtsman, ships captains who ran from Toledo, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan. Peter passed away on the 9th day of April 1904 at the age of sixty-one. The cause of Peter’s death was listed as: “Stroke.” The following day at 11:00 a.m., there was a short funeral service took place at: “Monroe Lighthouse” inside the: “Keeper’s Quarters.” Peter’s remains were brought up to the deck of a charter tugboat. His casket was met at the dock by members of the: “Masonic Lodge.” They places his casket on a horse drawn hearse and made their way to: “Woodlawn Cemetery.” Peter’s casket was removed from the hearse and carried by some of the lodge members over to his final resting place. He was buried with full “Masonic Honors”
Monroe Light-Station Lighthouse once stood on two wood timber pier with wood pilings that ran just about a 1/5th of a mile into Lake Erie. The U.S. Lighthouse Service used this type of construction to keep the sand from shifting and closing off the canal when the winds came out of the West. The lighthouse was constructed completely out of wood. The tower was an octagonal shape and placed at the end of the: “North Pier.” Atop and centered in the lantern was a: “Fourth Order (Dioptric) 270 degree Fresnel lens” with a: “Ruby Chimney” or “Fixed Red Light” that was illuminated by a single oil wick lamp. The keeper’s or his assistant kept light burning from dusk to dawn.
In 1849, a 1½ story keeper’s quarters was constructed on the beach near the water’s edge. The structure and foundation was built out of rough split stone. The dwelling measured thirty-four feet by twenty feet with eight foot ceilings. Inside there were four rooms, two upstairs and two rooms on the main floor. There was a wood burning fireplace that was centered in the middle of main floor. On the 30th day of September 1858, the station was inspected by the Tenth Lighthouse District. In their report they listed the following:
o Beacon: Fixed White
o Location: North Pier, entrance to Raisin River, Michigan Territory
o Ventilator Ball Height: 30 feet 6 inches
o Focal Plane: 42 feet
o Tower Color: White
o Building Materials: Wood
o Lantern Room Material: Iron w/Wood Floor
o Type of Apparatus: Catadioptric
o Lens Order: Fourth
o Arc: 270 Degrees
o Lamp Description: One Valve
o Oil House Capacity: 2 Air Tight Oil Butts
o Color: White w/Wood Roof (Shingled)
o Size: 30 feet by 16 feet, Wing: 9 feet by 13 feet
o Stories: 1½
The inspection report wasn’t completed by the District Inspector. There were items left off. The first one was his name and the overall health of the light-station was also left blank. In 1859, the keeper’s quarters was deconstructed, moved and then reconstructed on the pier. It was placed alongside the lighthouse. In 1884, the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters were rebuilt in the same location as the 1849 lighthouse. There actual process to complete all work on the pier was listed at the end of 1895. Water was taken from the Lake Erie via iron bucket the keeper’s dipped into the water. There was an old wood lined cistern that was also used. It held about twenty barrels of lake water. Just outside the keeper’s quarters was an old iron water pump that was hookup to the cistern. The privy was situated on northeast corner of the pier. On the 10th day of April 1885, Inspector Captain Chase E. Davis, Engineer for the Tenth Lighthouse District was onsite and ready to start his monthly inspector of the station. Captain Chas’s Inspection looked completely different from one done in 1858. He was very thrall and there were a few additional items added within his report. They are as follows:
o Location: On crib at the end of North Pier.
o Point of Origin: At entrance to shipping canal that leads into River Raisin, approximately 1½ mile above the mouth of the river.
o Lens: 180 degree, Fourth Order Dioptric Fresnel lens
o Maker: L. Sautter & Company C.I.E., Paris France
o Arc: Fixed visible West Northwest by South to North Northeast
o Latitude: 42 deg. 53” 28” North
o Longitude: -83 deg. 19’ 53” West
o Distance from Tower to Nearest High Water Mark: 10 feet
o Cribbing: Pine Timbers, crib filled with stone approximately 12 feet below surface
o Distance from Monroe, Michigan: Three miles by Rowboat
o Lake Water: Plentiful, Quality: Good
The lighthouse tower at that time was connected to the old dwelling. Inside there were two flights of stairs with handrails that were situated on each side of the structure. There was a wood ladder that ran from the base of the watch room up and into the iron lantern room.
In 1902, the light-station went through some additional repairs and some of the wood pilings were replaced. The “Boathouse” was positioned on the Inner End of the North Pier (Measuring fifty feet wide by ninety-three feet long) and was situated some 1,400 feet away from the lighthouse. The “Boathouse” measured twenty feet by twelve feet six inches in plan. The rescue boat was hoisted in and out of the water by block and tackle. The round iron “Oil House” was some twenty feet to the rear of the keeper’s quarters and the foundation for the “Oil House” was constructed out of cut stone. The keeper’s quarters housed the original oil room. When it was functional the room was capable of holding forty-five, five gallon containers of oil. Sometime after 1902, the: “Old Oil Room” was converted to an: “Office” and a “Lamp Storage Area.” On the 1st day of February 1909, Chas Bartlett, Chief Clerk U.S. Lighthouse Service and Norris Works Superintendent of the Tenth Lighthouse District were about to inspect all the station structures. After completing their inspection both men determined the station was: “In Good Shape.” In 1916, the lighthouse was: “Automated” and in 1922, it was: “Decommissioned.” A few months later, the U.S. Government sold the structure to a man in Toledo, Ohio for the sum of: $35.00 a wrecking company out of Toledo, Ohio. They dismantled the structures and loaded the materials aboard a barge called: “Three Brothers.”
Below is a list of keeper’s that may have served at each of these lighthouses:
o Major John A. Whipple, Keeper from 1829 to 1836 (Died)
o Lewis Bond, Keeper
o John W. Anderson, Keeper
o Captain John Paxton, Keeper
o Benjamin Thisman, Keeper
o Captain Joseph Guyor, Keeper
o Israel Noble, Keeper
o James A. Mc Glenn, Keeper
o Peter (“Uncle Peter”) Gussenbauer, Keeper from 1888 to 1904 (Died at Lighthouse)
o Williams Haynes, Keeper
o August Gramer, Keeper
o August H. Lauers, Keeper from ? to 1916 (Last Lighthouse Keeper)
Today there are only remnants of these lighthouses left near the shores of the: “Raisin River” and as time goes on even those remnants will also be: “Lost Forever.”