After years of hard work, Grand Haven’s south pier has been reconstructed and the catwalk was removed and returned, and now officials are taking another step in restoring the area.
A new fund, called the Lighthouse Rehabilitation Fund, was recently created with the goal of moving forward with the second phase of a plan to preserve the buildings on the south pier.
“We are moving to the interior of the lighthouses, to open them up for public access,” said Dave Karpin, president of the Grand Haven Lighthouse Conservancy, which oversees the south pier lighthouses.
Grand Haven’s first lighthouse was built on the sand on property that was purchased in 1838, according to Grand Haven Lighthouse Conservancy pamphlets. By December 1852, Lake Michigan had destroyed the lighthouse and a second one was built in 1855 on a bluff above the beach. The pier was later extended to the length visitors are used to today and a fog signal building installed. In 1904, the inner light building was installed by the American Bridge Co. of Chicago and, three years later, this lighthouse was moved to its current location.
“Ten years ago, the federal government would have disposed of these lighthouses,” Karpin said, noting city officials felt the “iconic ruby-red structures” needed to be restored.
The city took over ownership of the lighthouses in 2012 after work had been put into the buildings, said City Manager Pat McGinnis. In that time, the conservancy was created and a fund set up to cover phase 1 improvements, including repainting the structures and replacing windows.
McGinnis said phase 1 was recently considered finished and now focus is shifting to the second phase.
Phase 2 will include interior and exterior concrete work such as refinishing the chimney and repairing floors, ceilings and portholes for the outer, or entrance, lighthouse. Moving inside this structure, the conservancy also notes the need for interior and exterior work, including refinishing the main door, installing insulation and wall finish, and repairing the equipment door, lanter deck surfaces, air and water tanks, and ventilation ducts.
Once complete, the outer lighthouse will be open for tours, will have historic signage and may contain a gift shop.
As for the inner light, the plans call for repairs to its ventilation system, circular ladders, electrical system and more. Historic signage, which the conservancy is partnering with the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, will wrap around the inside of the structure for people to read as they make their way up to the light.
“We hope to start this in the next year, and it will probably be a two-year process,” Karpin said.
The rehabilitation fund, through the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, is being used for these immediate needs. After these needs have been met, the conservancy will look toward an endowment fund, also through the local community foundation, which will cover repairs for years to come.
“The history of the lighthouses in Grand Haven goes back more than 175 years,” Karpin said. “This has already been around for a couple generations. We just want to continue that legacy.”