Digest>Archives> February 2000

Long Lost Lens Returns

By Donald L. Nelson


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The missing lens from the remote Stannard Rock ...
Photo by: Wayne Sapulski

Sometimes miracles happen, and one did here on the upper Great Lakes. The 2nd Order, 12 bulls-eyed Fresnel Lens from the Stannard Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior has been located and returned to the home port of the keepers and will be on display at the Marquette Maritime Museum in Marquette, Michigan when it re-opens in the spring.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The 2nd order lens from Stannard Rock Lighthouse ...

On June 18,1961, an explosion and fire ripped through the Stannard Rock lighthouse and one Coast Guardsman was killed and one injured. After 79 years of faithful service by many keepers, Stannard was forced into early automation.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Assembling the 2nd order lens from Stannard Rock ...
Photo by: Donald L. Nelson

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The totally reassembled 2nd order lens from ...

The structure was cleared of all damaged equipment, furnishings, etc., and cleaned out. In 1962, the lens in the tower, 102 feet above the lake, was removed and a modern automated optic permanently installed. But where did the Fresnel lens go from there?

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Sections of the 2nd order lens laid out on the ...
Photo by: Donald L. Nelson

Some 20 years later, as lighthouse mania spread throughout the United States, little was known of this obscure, and most distant from land of all lighthouses in the US, except by those still alive who served there, and a few local people. I proceeded to dig out and gather all the information and old photos that was possible. Over many years I had several files full, but one thing remained a mystery. What happened to the two-ton 2nd order lens?

This was one of five used on the Great Lakes by the United States. The other four are accounted for and preserved for posterity. All the letters and inquiries I sent reached a dead end. No one had any ideas, including the Coast Guard. Anyone directly or indirectly involved with removal or transporting was no longer in the Coast Guard. Any paperwork generated was ground up, buried or lost in the system. I had given up hope of ever locating it and I assumed the worst.

Was it smoke and heat damaged enough that it was broken up and the pieces carried to a ship or boat and eventually disposed of in Lake Superior? I just couldn't imagine Coast Guardsmen unfamiliar with large lens removal, spending at least a week out there disassembling it, carefully carrying each panel (that takes two men) down the 141 narrow steps to the crib, or lowering by block and tackle, 80 feet down. They would have to build wooden crates with slots and packing material to fit the different sized and shaped panels. This was just not imaginable. But guess what? They did!

In August 1999, Fred Stone (President of the Marquette Maritime Museum in Michigan's Upper Peninsula) received word that the Stannard Rock Lens had been found. It was in storage at the Coast Guard curator's warehouse in Forestville, Maryland. Fred immediately went into action. He notified a few others and me. I gave him a description of the lens and he flew to Maryland for verification.

There were six large wooden crates with the words, "Sault St. Marie Coast Guard Base." Closer inspection revealed the very faint words, "Stannard Rock Lens." Here it is! Lost for 37 years-the mystery was solved. He learned the crates were found in a storage warehouse at the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut about a year earlier and moved to Forestville. How long they were there or the route they took, no one knows. But the wheels went into motion-phone calls and letters, and soon Fred was notified that the Museum could have the lens on permanent loan form the Coast Guard and the papers were signed. Peter Frazier and his wife (a local couple who own a local concrete company) drove a truck with one of the large crates. Once at the museum, the exciting times began. Do we have it all? If one crate was missing or anything seriously damaged, all would be lost.

Then the real work began-polishing all the brass, cleaning each prism, and re-glazing where needed. By the end of November, this was accomplished with the help of many volunteers. The lens frame was repainted the regulation dark green and arrangements were made with Jim Woodwind (the Coast Guard expert on lens assemble) to be in Marquette on December 6th to put it all together.

Meanwhile, where was the lens base unit? We determined it must be still out in the tower. Fred, with a local Coast Guardsman and several others, took the 46-mile boat trip to Stannard Rock. Sure enough-there it was, fully intact just as the day it was installed in 1882. Plans are being made to have it disassembled and brought to the museum by the Coast Guard next year.

During the week of December 6th, Jim Woodward, with Fred Stonehouse, Kurt Fosburg, Dr. Don Elzinga, Dr. Rob Yuill, Gerry Wiater, John Ochman, Dr. Cliff Maier, and Rich Jamsen as a team, assembled the lens. They skillfully and slowly screwed each panel in place. All went well and when completed, a glistening lens stood in all its elegance.

Winter plans are to fill the nearby wall panels with old and recent pictures and the history of Stannard Rock Lighthouse and what life was like for the keepers. Future plans, when they get the base unit, are to have the complete lens unit recessed in the floor, surrounded by a simulated lantern room and stairs for visitors to get a good close up view of how it looked and function in the tower. This 2nd order lens unit will join a 4th order lens that once shone from the lower harbor breakwall tower, which was removed and replaced in the early 1980s. They also received this year the 24-inch aerial beacon lens unit from the Marquette main lighthouse. This lens was removed and replaced with a modern optic after over 60 years of service.

These are great times for the Marquette Maritime Museum. Getting the long-lost Stannard Rock lens is nothing but a miracle. Cooperation, hard work and volunteerism made it happen. Another project will be to expand the history, photos and artifacts from the nearby 1891 Marquette Life Saving/Coast Guard station. Already on display is a 36-foot motor lifeboat (36392) and a 40-foot utility boat (10552) that served at the station.

The Marquette Maritime Museum is located on Lakeshore Drive in Marquette, Michigan. Marquette is approximately 170 miles west of Sault Ste Marie off Rtes 41 and M-28 in Michigan's upper peninsula.

The lens was ordered in 1879 or 80 by the Lighthouse Establishment and manufactured by henry LePaute (one of three French lens manufacturers) of Paris, Prance, in 1881 for the sum of $25,000 ($412,364 in 1999 dollars). This lens was designed and built specifically for the new Stannard Rock Lighthouse under construction. The lens went into service on July 4, 1882. Its design with 12 bullseyes and dioptric prism panels and an equal number of upper and lower catadiopric prism panels bolted to a steel frame created a compound lens assembly. In operation on a lens base unit and carriage wheels and powered by a handwound clockwork unit, it would rotate at one revolution every three minutes. From a distance of up to about 20 miles, a light characteristic appears as light flashes from the rotating lens bullseyes up in the tower lens room. This designates to mariners (on charts) that it was Stannard Rock lighthouse, warning of the dangerous reef almost in the middle of Lake Superior. Originally the light source was three wicks and lantern oil. This was later changed to an incandescent oil vapor until kerosene was used. In 1944, when the tower was electrified by generators and batteries, a 500-watt light bulb was used along with a 12-volt electric motor to rotate the lens. The light/lens output varied from 156,000 to 248,000 candlepower over the years.

This story appeared in the February 2000 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.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History