“Get Off The Beaten Path” is what the tourist brochure headlines with its enticing invitation to visit this beautiful island, which is surrounded by the waters of Lake Erie about halfway between Sandusky, Ohio on one side, and Kingsville and Leamington, Ontario, Canada on the other side.
The brochures go on to tell you to bring your backpack, your bike or even your car to get away from the crowds and visit Pelee Island where you can stroll clean and sandy beaches, enjoy over 30 species of birds and experience quaint inns and bed & breakfasts. It also invites you to dive for shipwrecks dating back to the 1800’s.
But what the brochures don’t tell you is that the people of Pelee Island worked for an amazing ten years trying to raise funds to restore their lighthouse, which had been abandoned since 1909.
The lighthouse has an interesting history, dating back to its first keeper, William McCormick, who was also the man who donated the land for the lighthouse to be built on. In fact, McCormick donated the stone used to build the tower.
A young Robert E. Lee (later to become commander of all Confederate troops during the War Between the States) visited Pelee Island to work on a boundary survey. Local records claimed that Lee stole a few glass lampshades before leaving.
Over the years the lighthouse had a number of keepers but one of the most noteworthy was James Cummins, who was awarded a gold watch by the Dominion of Canada for gallant services in saving lives of people from two different shipwrecks.
After the lighthouse was discontinued it was left to the elements to deteriorate. It became one of the first lighthouses to be placed on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of endangered lighthouses.
But, finally after 10 years of hard work and fund raising, the Relight the Lighthouse Committee got word that an application for a Canadian Federal Grant had been approved in December of 1999, which would provide the additional money to restore the old beacon.
Things moved rather quickly after that to restore the 1833 tower. Restoration architect Nicholas Hill was retained and plans were drawn up. By May, work had begun to restore the tower. The work was totally completed by August of 2000 and the historic lighthouse was rededicated.
The people of Pelee Island, the Relight the Lighthouse Committee and the many who made donations can be proud of what they accomplished. It took a while, but their perseverance paid off and another lighthouse came off the Doomsday List.
So, “get off the beaten path,” grab your backpack, your bike and your car and visit Pelee Island and let the islanders tell you are proud they are of their “new” 1833 lighthouse.
All photographs, (except vintage historic photo and Rick Guenther photograph) are courtesy of W. H. Knox and the Relight the Lighthouse Committee of Pelee Island.
This story appeared in the
April 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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