South Fox Island Light

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South Fox Island Light
South Fox Island Light USCG.jpg
South Fox Island Light showing old tower on left and new tower on right (USCG)
South Fox Island Light is located in Michigan
South Fox Island Light
Location South Fox Island, Michigan
Coordinates 45°22′43″N 85°50′14″W / 45.3785°N 85.8371°W / 45.3785; -85.8371Coordinates: 45°22′43″N 85°50′14″W / 45.3785°N 85.8371°W / 45.3785; -85.8371
Year first lit 1867 (first tower)
1934 (second tower)
Automated 1958
Deactivated 1969
Foundation Stone (first tower)
concrete (second tower)
Construction Brick (first tower)
iron (second tower)
Tower shape Square tower attached to house(first tower)
pyramidal skeleton tower (second tower)
Height 39 feet (12 m) (first tower)
60 feet (18 m) (second tower)
Focal height 68 feet (21 m) (first tower)
89 feet (27 m) (second tower)
Original lens fourth-order Fresnel lens

The South Fox Island Light was a light station located on South Fox Island in the north end of Lake Michigan. There are two towers standing at the site: the first is the original brick keeper's house and tower, while the second is a skeletal tower moved to this site from Sapelo Island, Georgia in 1934. Neither is operational.[1]


Congress appropriated $18,000 in 1867 for the construction of this light, and it was first lit in November of that year.[2] This structure was built of Cream City brick and consisted of a keeper's house with attached tower; a fourth-order Fresnel lens was used for the flashing red beacon.[2]

In 1880 the light keeper erected a fence around the station in order to reduce drifting snow and sand, which were making access to the property difficult at times; this was supplemented in 1892 with a network of wooden walkways joining the various station buildings.[2] More substantial changes commenced in 1895 with the addition of a steam whistle fog signal, which was replaced in 1929 with a diaphone horn; at the same time the beacon was converted from kerosene to electricity. A wooden house was erected for an assistant keeper in 1898; this was replaced by a red brick duplex in 1910.[2]

In 1934 the old tower was deactivated in favor of a skeletal tower erected somewhat closer to the point.[2] This tower was taken from the Sapelo Island Light station in Georgia, which had been discontinued the previous year.[2] The station was automated in 1958, and the light was finally discontinued in 1969.[1] Neither tower was demolished, however, and in 1971 the federal government transferred the land surrounding the light station to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which entertained the lead of establishing a harbor of refuge at the site.[1] The light station itself was also transferred to the state in 1980.

Two-thirds of the island was owned by David V. Johnson, a local developer who also purchased North Fox Island in 1994; the following year a land swap was proposed which would have given the state North Fox in exchange for Johnson receiving the remainder of South Fox.[3] This set off a legal battle initiated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, who claimed rights to use of the island on the basis of an 1836 treaty; the local DNR district also objected to the swap, saying that the south island was more important to its mission than the north. After several years of hearings, the swap proposal was modified in 2001 to leave the portion incorporating the light station in the hands of the state; after the tribal claim was denied by the courts in the following year, the swap was allowed to proceed.[3]

Preservation efforts began in 1984, when a band of ten members of the Michigan Youth Corp performed a cleanup of the light station grounds.[3] In 2002 the Fox Island Education Association was formed, which became the Fox Island Lighthouse Association in 2005 when it applied for nonprofit status.[3]


  1. ^ a b c "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Michigan". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Pepper, Terry. "South Fox Island Lighthouse". 
  3. ^ a b c d "History of the Light Station". Fox Island Lighthouse Association. 

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