Fundraiser saves Lake Michigan lighthouse

The South Haven lighthouse on Lake Michigan. (Nov. 28, 2015)

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — As lighthouses go, this was a real fixer-upper.

The second floor of the South Haven lighthouse was rusted through, and rust had eaten away at the seams. Then, to top it off, the light room was caving in.

“It would have rusted to the point where more water would have gotten in there, it wouldn’t have been sound and the government would have deemed it a nuisance and taken it down and scrapped it,” said Jim Ollgaard, president of the Historical Association of South Haven.

“There’s a lot of wind and weather and that could have been just bashed right in as fragile as it had become,” he said of the light room.

That was the fear when the Historical Association of South Haven took the lighthouse, built in 1909, from the federal government three years ago.

The plaque on the South Haven lighthouse. (Nov. 28, 2015)
The plaque on the South Haven lighthouse. (Nov. 28, 2015)

Ollgaard said he couldn’t imagine South Haven without it. Neither could all those photographers, or the shop owners who use the image in their advertising.

“I grew up here, so it was always in the background, and it’s a comfort to see it when you’re driving by,” Ollgaard said.

So, in January, the historical association started a “save the light” campaign, hoping to raise $300,000 by the end of the year.

“There was enthusiasm beyond my wildest dreams the entire year,” Ollgaard said.

About 1,500 people gave, including many from out-of-state. They surpassed the goal by $15,000 with a month to spare.

“What that says is that there are a lot of people willing to donate money to see that the lighthouse continues to sit right where it sits in very good shape,” he said.

For visitors like Tom Chapman, here from Missouri to visit family, this beacon is part of what draws them, and why they will keep coming.

“It’s the landmark, all the pictures,” he said. “It’s what you think of when you think of South Haven. It’s what we think of.”

Workers started fixing the inside this fall and expect to continue working on it as long as the weather allows. In the spring, they will wrap it with scaffolding and start working on the outside, Ollgaard said.

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