“Michigan City Light-Station & Lifesaving Station"

        The history of United States Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Lifesaving Service in Michigan City, Indiana began a long time ago. The long standing history of these two services in Michigan City, Indiana are legendary and entrenched in folklore.

In 1835 the Lighthouse Service built the first light-station in Michigan City, Indiana. The purpose of “Michigan City Light-Station” was to assist those who fished along the shoreline and those vessels making their way in/out of the harbor. From 1835 to middle of 1861 there were four keepers who served heroically at the light-station. In 1861 the duties and responsibilities of light-station fell on the shoulder of a twenty-two year old woman named Miss. Harriet Colfax.
Side Note:

“Mrs. Harriet Colfax Towner was married to Keeper James Towner, Keeper who served at the light-station from 1841 to 1844. John died at the light-station in 1844.”
Harriet Colfax dedicated twenty-five years of her life serving with the Lighthouse Service and became a cultural icon to those living in Michigan City, Indiana.

On the 4th day of May 1882, Congress authorized a lifesaving station be constructed on the east side of Trail Creek near the mouth of Lake Michigan near Michigan City, Indiana. The lifesaving station went operational in April of 1889. The purpose of this station was to monitor the ships traveling long Lake Michigan and help the locals in their time of need. The Lifesaving Service appointed Captain Henry Finch as the keeper-in charge of “Michigan City Lifesaving Station.” Keeper Finch led a meager but competent six surfmen that would be noted in the annuals of history and heroism. Local town’s people would gather and watch the station crew drill near the harbor at Trail Creek.

On the 3rd day of December 1893 the bulk freighter F. W. Wheeler with its sixteen member crew ran aground three miles west of Michigan City, Indiana during a blinding snow storm. The bulk freighter was loaded down with 2,100 tons of coal that was loaded on board in Buffalo, New York. The steam driven bulk freighter’s destination was listed as Chicago, Illinois. The F. W. Wheeler measured 265½ feet in length, 40½ feet abeam with a draft of 19 feet and weighed approximately 2,300 tons. Every one of the crew members were rescued by the lifesaving station crew from Michigan City, Indiana. The shipment of coal and the F. W. Wheeler were lost and now sits some fifteen feet below the waterline of Lake Michigan. On the 16th day of April 1897 Keeper Henry Finch was replaced by Allen A. Kent. Allen was the keeper-in-charge of Manistee Station.
Bulk freighter Horace A. Tuttle measured 250 feet in length by thirty-eight feet abeam with a draft of twenty feet. The freighter was loaded up with corn from Buffalo, New York and was bound for Chicago, Illinois. On the 26th day of October 1898 the Tuttle was stranded during a severe storm near Michigan City, Indiana.  According to an official report that I came across the cause of this shipwreck was listed as the hatches were blown off the freighter. According to testimony from the crew the freighter began taking on water due to heavy seas and the conditions on the lake. Lifesaving Station Keeper Allen A. Kent watched as his surfmen made several heroic rescues under extreme conditions out on the lake. Kent’s crew was credited with saving the lives of seventeen men and a female cook. The Horace A. Tuttle sank near the Michigan City, Indiana harbor.  Bystander stated they saw rotten corn wash up onshore many years after the Tuttle went down.

Allen A. Kent stayed on as Keeper-in-Charge of the lifesaving station until the 4th day of March 1908. According to the historical documentation Kent was reassigned as keeper-in-charge of Charlevoix Lifesaving Station located in Charlevoix, Michigan. Several days after Kent left the United States Lifesaving Service appointed as Michael Egle as keeper-in-charge of Michigan City Lifesaving Station. On the 28th day of January 1915, Keeper Egle was still in charge of Michigan City Lifesaving Station. It was on that same day the United States Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service merged together into what is known today as the “United States Coast Guard.”
The historical records of keeper’s that came after Michael Egle are somewhat sketchy. One of the records I looked over stated the following:
  • William E. Preston, Keeper from 1921 to 1922
  • Berger Benson, Keeper from 1922 to 1925
  •  Sigval A. Johnson, Keeper from 1915 to 1928
The last person in charge of Michigan City was David A. Furst (1928 to 1940). According to historical documentation Keeper Furst retired from active duty on the 1st day of June 1940. After his retirement the United States Coast Guard moved the command of Michigan City LSS over to the Warrant Officer-in-Charge of Coast Guard Station located in St. Joseph, Michigan.

As a side note to this story: Sigval A. Johnson was Keeper-in-Charge when the "S.S. Eastland" capsized in the Chicago River on the 24th day of July 1915.
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