Digest>Archives> November 1995

Home Begins at Charity

By Jerry Biggs


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Charity Island Lighthouse in Saginaw Bay on Lake ...
Photo by: Jerry Biggs

There's an expression sometimes applied to people who don't quite have their act together: "The lights are on but nobody's home." At Charity Island the light is not on and nobody is home, either, unless you count birds and bunnies.

Although over the centuries visitors have stopped at the island, Charity has never been a permanent home except for a few years after 1857. The Lighthouse Service built a small, duplex residence with a small tower. It cost $4800. Add several zeros to that figure to restore the lighthouse at today's cost.

The pictures tell the sad story of what happened to an abandoned, wooden building after the "vultures" (vandals) have picked the bones and left the structure exposed to the elements. Big Charity Island is the last of the uninhabited large islands in the lower Great Lakes. The 322 acre island includes an inland lake, a mature maple forest, an archaeological preserve, beaches and sand dunes. Most of the island's wildflowers are protected under state law. Colonies of Pitchers Thistles can be found on the west beach and they are on the Federal Government's list of threatened species. The lighthouse is beyond the category of "threatened species."

Big Charity Island lies approximately seven miles off shore, half-way between Au Gres's Point Lookout and Caseville's Sand Point. The smaller, nearby island is Little Charity. Both islands are in the middle of the mouth of Saginaw Bay where it enters mighty Lake Huron. The site is about 80 miles northeast of Bay City.

Big Charity Island was an important source of early Native American Indian tool-making material called "chert." On the island's southern tip there is a site that was once a commercial fishing outpost. Local legend says that fisherman believe God put the island where it is as an act of charity, a place of refuge during the savage storms of Saginaw Bay. The lighthouse, abandoned in 1939 when it was replaced by the present, automated Gravely Shoal Light, is the only building on Big Charity . . . but maybe not for long.

This story appeared in the November 1995 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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