High ‘Stannard’ of living

Remote lighthouse focus of rehabilitation efforts

This is Stannard Rock Lighthouse, located 42 miles from Marquette in Lake Superior. The Superior Watershed Partnership, which acquired the structure from the federal government in 2015, is involved in rehabilitation efforts for Stannard Rock, which it uses for climate and weather research. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Smay)

MARQUETTE — In 1835, Capt. Charles C. Stannard blew off course in a storm and discovered a reef 25 miles off the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior.

Forty-seven years later in 1882, a lighthouse that became known as Stannard Rock was built.

Now automated, Stannard Rock, which the Superior Watershed Partnership acquired from the federal government in 2015, is considered the farthest lighthouse from a coast in the United States at 42 miles from Marquette.

The SWP, which is involved in a number of conservation projects in the region, plans to expand Great Lakes climate research at Stannard Rock and involve its Great Lakes Conservation Corps in historic renovation projects. The lighthouse — which has been nicknamed “the loneliest lighthouse” — no longer has live-in keepers, so that opens up the possibility for new science-related uses for the SWP.

To that end, the SWP is working with partners to complete a Historic Structure Report to guide the lighthouse’s ongoing rehabilitation.

Michelle Smay, an architect with the Ann-Arbor based firm of Smay Trombley Architecture, talked about the history and future of Stannard Rock at a well-attended presentation Tuesday at the Citizens Forum at Lakeview Arena.

Considering its remote location, age and an explosion that took place in 1961, the structure is in good shape, although many improvements can be made.

“Overall, it’s gotten good bones,” Smay said. “This is maybe the engineering that was done and the materials. We’re talking from the 1880s. This is very impressive, the condition. You start getting up close and there’s things to be done, definitely.”

For example, steel became warped due to the heat from a fire, which came from the 1961 explosion that killed one person and injured three, although no definite cause was determined, she said. There also is rust, which is understandable considering Stannard’s watery, remote location.

Smay said the period of 1961-62 should be what the SWP considers the most when making repairs.

“That was a period when it was last manned,” Smay said. “It was in operation. We could return some of the things to how it was.”

However, there needs to be a rehabilitation strategy, and that was detailed at Tuesday’s presentation.

“We base it on what are the uses and conditions we find out there, the history, what are the missions and goals for that,” Smay said. “Talking with the Watershed Partnership, their mission of Great Lakes protection, tourism, stable economic development, public education, this ties in really well.”

However, rehabilitation won’t come cheap.

Smay said an estimated $2.4 million worth of treatments is required for long-term preservation and maintenance of the structure.

“There’s a lot of factors involved,” Smay said. “A lot of that is site access. You saw how difficult it would be to get equipment and people out there to do the work.”

The rehab plan has been broken down into three phases based on need, she said.

The first phase will deal with initial stabilization and some rehabilitation, which includes work on decorative stonework over the windows, temporary shoring, concrete repairs, replacing the railing and repointing mortar joints.

The second phase will involve the next level of repairs, which include fixing and painting ladders, and replacing plexiglass with glass at the lantern, she said.

Smay said the third phase will focus on long-term maintenance, such as repairing the interior iron work, replacing the roof on the fog signal building and reconstructing the boat hoist.

She said the hope is that the SWP will use the Historic Structure Report for Stannard Rock’s care and maintenance, noting there are grant opportunities, like the Save Our Lights program, that could prove helpful.

Bryan Lijewski, an architect with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, discussed the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program, with every “Save Our Lights” license plate purchase contributing $25 to the program.

Each time an individual renews that plate, an additional $10 goes toward lighthouse preservation.

Lijewski said challenges were for seen offshore lights, which he defined as those that are on a crib, reef, shoal or uninhabited island — the ones that are “own their own.”

Stannard Rock is definitely one of those lights.

So, an HSR can come in handy for those structures as he said it provides a good base document for existing conditions at the time.

“It also provides a good plan for moving forward, prioritizing work and seeing what the most critical work areas are,” Lijewski said.

He noted MLAP money was used as a match to apply for a National Maritime Heritage Grant from the National Park Service, but that application was turned down. However, after building in a public awareness component about offshore lights, the application was resubmitted, and the grant was awarded.

The SWP was among the entities chosen to be assisted in the effort, with the others being Thunder Bay Island in Lake Huron, and Manitou Island and Gull Rock in Lake Superior.

The first site visit in 2017 was to Stannard Rock.

However, it obviously wasn’t a simple walk on a pier to a lighthouse.

“We were ready with harnesses and clips to climb up that ladder to make sure we were safe,” Lijewski said, with rough water being a possibility.

SWP accountant Barb Trombley talked about the organization’s involvement with Stannard Rock during the Tuesday program, saying the SWP is using it for climate and weather research, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as Environment Canada also at the location.

Trombley said the SWP, with help from the Great Lakes Observing System and LimnoTech, in 2017 put out a buoy at Stannard Rock that measures various weather conditions.

People can follow those conditions at the Stannard Rock Buoy, also known as Station 45179, at uglos.mtu.edu or glbuoys.glos.us/45179/. They can find data like barometric pressure, air temperature, wind direction and speed, surface water temperature, significant wave height and dominant period of waves.

To donate to the Stannard Rock Lighthouse preservation and restoration project, send a check payable to the SWP to: Superior Watershed Partnership, 2 Peter White Drive, Marquette, MI 49855.