Saginaw River Rear Range Light

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Saginaw River Rear Range Light
Saginaw River Rear Range Light
Saginaw River Rear Range Light is located in Michigan
Saginaw River Rear Range Light
Location Bangor Township, Bay County, Michigan
Coordinates 43°38′7.8″N 83°51′2″W / 43.635500°N 83.85056°W / 43.635500; -83.85056Coordinates: 43°38′7.8″N 83°51′2″W / 43.635500°N 83.85056°W / 43.635500; -83.85056
Year first lit 1876[1]
Deactivated 1960[2]
Foundation Timber piles/concrete/steel sheeting
Construction Cream City Brick covered with concrete
Tower shape Square tapered
Markings / pattern white/black trim
Height Tower - 59 feet (18 m)[3]
Focal height Focal Plane - 77 feet (23 m)[4][5][6]
Original lens 4th order Fresnel lens[7]
Range 8.5 nautical miles (15.7 km; 9.8 mi)
ARLHS number USA-717[8][9]
USCG number
Saginaw River Light Station
Location Coast Guard St., Bay City, Michigan
Area 1 acre (0.40 ha)
Built 1876
Architect Major Godfrey Weitzel
Governing body Dow Chemical; Saginaw River Marine Historical Society[5]
MPS U.S. Coast Guard Lighthouses and Light Stations on the Great Lakes TR
NRHP Reference # 84001373[10]
Added to NRHP July 19, 1984

Construction of Saginaw Bay Lighthouse began in July 1839 by Captain Stephen Wolverton. It would appear that Wolverton abandoned the work, since the project was brought to completion under the direction of Levi Johnson of Cleveland in the fall of 1841. Exhibition of the light of the new lighthouse was on an undetermined date in September of 1841.[11] During this time period, a large quantity of lumber was being exported from the heart of Michigan to the eastern coast of the United States (traveling through the Erie Canal.)


In 1867, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers arrived to dredge out the Saginaw River channel so that larger vessels could navigate the river. When they were finished, the light was no longer well-positioned to allow boats navigation of the entrance. Funding requests, negotiations for land, and contractual issues delayed work until 1876, when a pair of lighthouses could be erected in a range light configuration.

The front range light was constructed on a square timber crib beside the western river bank, and took the form of a 34-foot (10 m) tall painted-white pyramid framework of timber similar in design to that being used for pierhead beacons throughout the district at the time. With its upper half sheathed, a small enclosed room was thus created beneath the gallery for the storage of oil and supplies, and in which the keeper could seek shelter while tending the light during inclement weather conditions. The gallery was surrounded with an iron safety railing and capped with a prefabricated octagonal cast iron lantern. Seated atop a cast iron pedestal within the lantern, the light's sparkling new fixed white sixth order Fresnel lens sat at a focal plane of 37 feet (11 m), sending its light 8 12 nautical miles (15.7 km; 9.8 mi) out into the bay.[12]

The rear range light was constructed 2,300 feet (700 m) south of the mouth of the river. Eleventh district engineer Major Godfrey Weitzel's design for the combined rear range tower and dwelling was unique. Consisting of a large elevated concrete base supporting a combined brick dwelling and tower, the swampy ground in the chosen site first required the driving of timber piles deep into the ground to provide a solid foundation on which timber forms for the concrete base could be erected and filled. Atop this concrete foundation, a square two-story Cream City brick Lighthouse keeper's dwelling 26 feet 6 inches (8.08 m) in plan was constructed. Integrated into the northwest corner of the dwelling, a tapered 53 feet (16 m) tall square tower with double walls housed a set of prefabricated cast iron spiral stairs. Winding from the cellar to the lantern, these stairs also serve as the only means of access to the first and second floors by way of landings on each floor, each outfitted with tightly fitting arch-topped iron doors designed to stem the spread of fire between floors. A timber deck supported by timber columns encircled the dwelling at the first floor level, providing easy and dry access to all sides of the structure. The living quarters consisted of a kitchen, parlor and oil storage room on the first floor, and three bedrooms above. The tower was capped with a square iron gallery, supported by five cast iron corbels on each of its four sides. An octagonal cast iron lantern was installed at its center, with a fixed white fourth order Fresnel lens placed at a focal plane of 61 feet.[12]

The range lights were converted to electricity in 1915.[13]

The light stayed active, and the residence for the Coast Guard facility until the 1970s when the Coast Guard Station was moved across the river in order to have more space. The station stayed empty until 1986 when Dow Chemical Company,[14] which owned the surrounding land, purchased the facility and boarded it up. In 1999, the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society (SRMHS) asked Dow if they could work together. At the current time, the property is not generally available, but renovation is being done by the SRMHS.

It is generally believed (but not well documented) that the Saginaw River lighthouse was the first place where range lights were installed. More details are available in the article on Lighthouses.

In 2002, the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society "acquired a historic locomotive-style range lens of the type used in the lighthouse between 1930 and 1960."[15]

This lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places: Reference #84001373 Name of Listing: SAGINAW RIVER LIGHT STATION (U.S. COAST GUARD/GREAT LAKES TR)[16] Restoration efforts are being conducted by: Saginaw River Marine Historical Society, Dept. W, P.O. Box 2051, Bay City, Michigan 48707-2051.[17]

It is located on west of the Saginaw River about 23 mile (1.1 km) south of Saginaw Bay, north of Bay City. The site is undergoing renovation and is closed to the public.[18]

According to US Government publication, "The American Practical Navigator", Chapter 5: Range lights are light pairs that indicate a specific line of position when they are in line. The higher rear light is placed behind the front light. When the mariner sees the lights vertically in line, he is on the range line. If the front light appears left of the rear light, the observer is to the right of the range line; if the front appears to the right of the rear, the observer is left of the range line.[1]


  1. ^ "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Michigan". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. 
  2. ^ Interactive map on Michigan lighthouses. Detroit News.
  3. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Tower Heights". Seeing the Light. 
  4. ^ National Park Service, Maritime History Project, Inventory of Lights, Saginaw River light.
  5. ^ a b Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, Saginaw River Light.
  6. ^ But see Pepper, Terry. "Database of Focal Heights". Seeing the Light.  which states 61 feet (19 m)
  7. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Original Lenses". Seeing the Light. 
  8. ^ Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society, Saginaw River Rear Range Light ARLHS USA-717.
  9. ^ Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society, World List of Lights.
  10. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  11. ^ Terry Pepper, Saginaw Bay Lighthouse.
  12. ^ a b Terry Pepper, Saginaw River Rear Range Light.
  13. ^ Lighthouse Central, Saginaw River Rear Range Light Photographs, History and Directions, The Ultimate Guide to East Michigan Lighthouses by Jerry Roach (Publisher: Bugs Publishing LLC - July 2006). ISBN 0-9747977-1-5; ISBN 978-0-9747977-1-7.
  14. ^ Dow Chemical Company. Wobser, David, Saginaw River Rear Range Light.
  15. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Michigan's Eastern Lower Peninsula". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
  16. ^ National Park Service, Maritime History Project, Inventory of Lights, Saginaw River light.
  17. ^ Wobser, David, Saginaw River Rear Range Light.
  18. ^ Anderson, kraig, Lighthouse Friends, Saginaw River Rear Range Lighthouse.

External links[edit]

Undated USCG photo