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Mason County Memories

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History Column 344 Dave Petersen Lightships of the Great Lakes There were many guardians on the Great Lakes in her history and although we did not have Lightships in Ludington they did winter as close as Manistee during their off season. The Lightships served an important purpose and was a great aid to Navigation on the Great Lakes in places where the building of a lighthouse would not be practical. It was also a money saving effort, the wooden hulled lightships in particular were only on the lakes during the navigational season and were wintered over during the harshest time of the year. It was a lonely, and at times a dangerous job for the crew of the lightships who may be on board for weeks at a time. In some pictures you can see a small boat carried on the lightship itself that could be lowered and used to make runs into the nearest harbor town for supplies. Pic #1 The Milwaukee Lightship was built in 1912 at Muskegon, Michigan. With a length of 108 feet overall, the vessel was powered by a 200 horsepower steam engine. The Milwaukee Lightship 95 (LV 95) was assigned to a station anchored off her namesake harbor from 1912 to 1932. Her crew saw the Grand Trunk Railroad car ferry Milwaukee rolling and pitching in mountainous seas on October 22, 1929 on her way to Grand Haven, Michigan. Pic #2 Manitou Shoals Lightship (Manitou Islands) Lightship Manitou LV-89 (LV is Light Vessel) anchored almost 7 miles out in Lake Michigan marking the shoal extending south east from North Manitou Island. The ship was painted black, which served to warn vessels that they should pass to the left, Red would indicate passing to the right. This ship served from 1927 to 1933-34 then being replaced by LV-103 until 1934-35.For the next two years it served as a relief vessel until being decommissioned about 1936. LV-103 was built in 1920 and was stationed at North Manitou Shoals from 1933 to 1934 before serving one year as a relief ship. Pic #3 The Grays Reef Lightship was built in 1891 by Craigs Shipbuilding in Toledo Ohio and subsequently stationed near Grays Reef on the northern end of Lake Michigan. The ship served in that capacity until 1923. The Grays Reef lightship was wooden hulled and a sister ship to the LV 55 and 56 which were built at the same time. The annual operating cost of 4,000.00 per ship was considered a savings over building a permanent lighthouse. Pic #4 LV 56 Manitou Shoals Pictured here and wintering over in Manistee is the last wooden Lightship serving in the Great Lakes. This ship LV-56 was stationed at White Shoals from 1891 to 1909 then North Manitou from 1910 to 1926. From there to Grays Reef from 1927 to 1928 and finally retired in December 1937 . Pic#5 There was always a lot of upkeep and maintenance aboard a lightship, the steam had to be kept up as well in the event that a fog rolled in and the fog horn was needed. The crew was on board 24 hours a day 7 days per week and during times of good weather could be seen cleaning and keeping up maintenance on the ship. One has to remember that they did not have radios in the early days and their entertainment had to be fashioned by their own ingenuity and talent. Pic #6 John Peters standing to the left of the Bell with Bert Benson on the deck of the Manitou. The LV-103 was transferred to the Huron Station in Michigan where she served out her remaining years. In 1970 the Huron was donated to the City of Port Huron and is permanently on display as a Lightship Museum. If you have any photographs or stories to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at any time in care of the Ludington Daily News, by calling 757-3240 or email to davep@blackcreekpress.com

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