Historic Structures

Building Description Lower Nicolet West Front Lighthouse, Barbeau Michigan

The Lower Nicolet West Front Range Light is on the north end of Neebish Island on St. Mary's River, at the confluence of Lake Nicolet and Middle Neebish Channel, 2.9 miles northeast of Oak Ridge, the only settlement on the island. The range light is located only slightly above the water level in a marshy area on the north shore of Neebish Island on the St. Mary's River at the confluence of Lake Nicolet and the Middle Neebish Channel. It is one of four range lights at this site, designated as the Lower Nicolet Range Lights, East Front (10E) and Rear (HE) and West Front (10W) and Rear (11W). The West Front tower is the only one surviving of the two historic, cylindrical steel-plate beacon towers that were erected on the West Front and Rear sites in 1931. The three other towers now on the sites are modern steel skeleton towers.

The ground rises gently from the marshy lake front to the rear towers. The area of the four beacon towers is cleared scrub, the surrounding area a mixture of scrub and mature trees. It is an isolated, unoccupied area with no road access. There are the remains of a concrete dock, 630 feet long, extending over marsh and open water and ending adjacent to the front west light. The east and west range lights are 200 feet apart, the east rear range light is 1,758.8 feet behind the front east light; the rear west range light was originally the same distance to the rear but was later moved 2000 feet farther to the rear. The four lights face northwest at N 29 41'4 6" W into lake Nicolet. The U. S. Coast Guard site contains approximately 17 acres.

The Lower Nicolet West Front Range Light No. 10W is a 50- foot steel cylindrical tower originally constructed_in 1907at Windmill Point, Detroit, Michigan, on the Detroit River at its confluence with Lake Sinclair. It was built to a Light House Bureau design of 1906. Constructed in two sections, the main_ part of the structure is an inward-sloping cylinder, 35'-4" high; a straight cylinder section, 14'-8” high, was added to the top 1919. With the addition, the tower totals 50' in height, measured from the top of the foundation to the focal plane of the lens.

This combined tower was moved to Neebish Island and erected on the site in 1931. At the time of the move the tower was modified to accommodate the use of an acetylene-gas lantern rather than the oil-fueled locomotive headlamp it had used at the Windmill Point site. The acetylene-gas light and steel tower required a minimum of maintenance, allowing the station to be unmanned, since the light could be served by a tender from which the acetylene-gas cylinders were replaced or recharged.

The tower has a diameter of 8'-0" at the base, measured to the rivet seams of the base steel angle, and 8!-9-1/2% measured to the outside of the steel angle base. The lower three sections of the cylinder slope inward. At the top of the first section the diameter is 6'-2"; at the top of the second 5*-l% and at the top of the third, 4'-6” The top seven sections are referred to as straight, although the diameter drops from 4'-6" to 4'-0% On top, there is a 5'-0"-diameter lantern house with a conical roof, topped by a ventilator. !A steel cavetto cornice of 4" radius supports the conical steel roof. At the apex is an 8" circular ventilator shaft, 6" high , originally capped by a sheet-metal ventilator. The opening is now plugged with wood. There is a roof hand rail of steel near the edge of the roof. The overall height of the tower is 55'-0" to the top of the cone, measured from the top of the concrete foundation which is about l'-0" high above the ground line. The cylinder sections are of steel plate; the lower three are 1/4" plate, while the remainder are 3/16" plate. The plates overlap 2" and are fastened with 1/2" rivets, installed 2-1/2" on center. The larger-diameter lantern house at the top has a projecting rectangular steel opening for a wooden, one-light single-sash window for the light. The steel projecting frame is 4'-4" high and 3'-8" wide; it projects 6".

At the base, there is a steel arch-head door, set in a projecting steel-plate arched frame. The door is of plate with plain steel hinges, 2'-2" wide. On the inside of the door is a framework of steel plates-- perimeter and three stiles— all riveted to the door plate. There is a plain rimlock and knob, as well as a modern padlock. The door is 2'-9" wide and 6'-9-3/8" high, closing on the outside of the steel door frame. A maker's plate on the door reads: "Made by Whitehead and Hales Ironworks, Detroit, Mich."

There is a low concrete threshold. There are two steel ventilators: one on the left door projecting jamb, comprising an inner plate with circular holes, sliding against a similar fixed plate. This opens and closes the ventilation holes. An exterior hood of steel projects 2", with overall dimensions of 10-1/2" X 12-1/2" . The second ventilator, similar in construction, is at the top front of the tower shaft, below the lantern house.

The octagonal base and foundation are of mass, unreinforced concrete with perimeter footings 5'-6" below grade and 12" above grade. A concrete slab floor is between the footings. The octagon-shaped base is 5'-0" on a side, for an overall maximum width of 12'-0". The tower is fixed to the base with a perimeter 4-1/2" X 4-1/2" steel angle with 1-1/4" bolts cast deep into the concrete foundation. On the northwest front there is a step down from the sloping top face of the base to the grade.

In 1975 a daymark was added to the northwest face of the tower perpendicular to the direction of the light beacon. The daymark is 12'-0" wide X 24'-0" and is fastened to the tower by a steel-angle structure. The daymark itself is on a 2" X 4" wood frame mounted on the skeleton structure; the solid face is in 3/4" plywood. The daymark consists of three broad vertical stripes of equal width: a center white stripe with a red stripe at each side.

On the interior, the base floor is concrete. Access is by the steel arch door described above. On each side is a steel rack that formerly held four accumulator tanks each for the 1931 acetylene gas light installed when the tower was moved to this

location. An electrical cabinet is now mounted on the left rack. In the center of the tower is a 16"-wide vertical steel ladder rising to the lantern-house floor at the top of the tower. At the base of the lantern house on top of the tower is a steelplate floor with a hatch opening for the ladder. The hatch was formerly closed by a hinged floor plate, but the loose hatch is now at ground level. The lantern house, 5'-0" in diameter, has a projecting steel window frame on the northwest holding a woodsash, single-light window, 33-1/2" X 42-0", for the range light. At the top of the conical roof over the lantern house is a ventilator shaft which was formerly topped by a ventilator housing.

The present range light is electric, mounted on a steel platform, with an electric panel box mounted on the adjoining wall. Although there is no legible date on available copies of the drawings for the change to electricity from acetylene gas, other drawings indicate that the date of installation was 1958 or earlier. The present light is fixed and provides 20,000 candlepower. The acetylene lamp and flasher installed in the 1931 move to this location had an 18" concave Mangin mirror copper-sheathed on the rear and mounted on a brass frame with piping to the grade level tanks. It was removed when the electric light was installed. The original (1907) light, which was not brought to this site from Windmill Point, was a locomotive headlight, oil fueled, mounted in a metal frame with a wood platform. It was hung by rope via pulleys mounted on the roof for servicing and was raised by a hand winch mounted on a wood frame at ground level. No trace of this lighting system remains.

Five feet-four inches east of the tower base is a 3f-0" wide reinforced pier walkway and railway, which begins at the side of the tower and extends 630' through marsh to open water. Much of the walkway has collapsed. At the end of the walkway are remnants of the 24"-gauge railway used to transport accumulator tanks and equipment from boats at the dock. The walkway and dock were completed in 1933. The concrete pier walkway is 6" thick; its piers are 11-1/2" thick, spaced at 10' on center. The structure starts by the tower at grade; at its dock end on the lake it was 4,-0n above LWD. The dock end of the walkway was 6' wide and extended 11' landward. It has now collapsed.

The exterior of the beacon tower is painted bright red and the interior white with a black wainscot. These appear from visual inspection of samples to be the original colors, at least on this site. No other colors remain on the steel work.