Digest>Archives> December 2003

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Is It a Lighthouse?

By Jim Claflin


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Jeff Shook of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy recently came across this most unusual item which I thought might be of interest. Is it a lighthouse? Or is it an antique collectible? Well, it measures 24 feet high and about 2 1/2 feet in diameter at the base and is entirely of cast iron.

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This unusual piece was found in the St. Mary’s River area in Michigan and was common in the nineteenth century. The beautifully cast piece was manufactured for the U.S. Light House Establishment for use in the rivers and lakes as channel markers. They were mounted onto large square concrete cribs in the river and at entrances. During the early years they were lit on the top using oil lamps. These were later changed to acetylene lamps with sunvalves to regulate their operation. The markers are provided with rungs to aid the keeper in climbing the light daily for maintenance. On the base of each marker is a pulley which we surmise may have been used aid the keeper in raising the lamp into position after filling. There may have been another near the top. One keeper might have the responsibility of lighting as many as six or eight of these lights every evening and extinguishing and refilling them in the morning. Like today’s buoys, the markers were painted either red or green. Cast into each marker are the letters “U S L H E.”

Many of these, as many as seven or eight, were used in the St. Mary’s River from Sault Sainte Marie in Lake Superior to Lake Huron on the Saint Mary’s River. Others can still be seen on display at Seul Choix Pointe Lighthouse, Whitefish Point Lighthouse, and at the Sault St. Marie Coast Guard Station. Although I have never seen these markers used beyond the Great Lakes, it would not surprise me to find that they were used on East Coast rivers as well.

Next month we will show you a most unusual buoy and other items that we have come across.

Like our column? Have suggestions for future subjects? Please send in your suggestions and questions, or a photograph of an object that you need help dating or identifying. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.

Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. Jim, owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques, may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the December 2003 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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