The year of the lighthouse

A cannon is shot during the celebration. (Photos courtesy of Marquette Maritime Museum)

A cannon is shot during the celebration. (Photos courtesy of Marquette Maritime Museum)

by Amy Gawry

Marquette celebrates Lighthouse Point property

In Marquette, 2016 has unexpectedly become the Year of Lighthouse Point. Events that seemed disconnected at the year’s start—a long anticipated deed transfer, a landmark anniversary and a symphony commission celebrating local culture—have come together to make Lighthouse Point a rising star which will remain in the public eye.

The event with the biggest impact was the Lighthouse Point deed transfer, which had been in the works for several years, with no estimate of when the final transfer would take place. The land was previously part of the local U.S. Coast Guard Station, but the Coast Guard had outgrown it and needed to build a new station.

They built their new station just down the road on what had been city property, and moved into the new facility in 2010.

“We basically traded the property that the new Coast Guard station is on for the property that the old station is on,” Marquette City Manager Mike Angeli said.

Though that trade was the intention, there was a lot that needed to be done before Lighthouse Point could be handed over to the city. Besides government paperwork, there were inspections and an environmental review.

Marquette Maritime Museum Board President Fred Stonehouse receives a certificate of recognition on behalf of the museum. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Maritime Museum)

“It took just a few months for us to give them our property, and a number of years to get theirs,” Angeli said.

No one knew how long the process would take because the time frame of each step depended on the one before it.

“There was never a doubt that we were going to get it; there was just no idea when,” Angeli said.

After years of slow progress, the final stages came together in a hurry. Without any attention paid to the timing, the deed transfer was completed during the same year as Marquette Harbor Lighthouse’s 150th Anniversary—2016.

The Maritime Museum had already begun plans for a birthday party for the lighthouse, and organizers thought the official deed transfer should be incorporated into the celebration.

“We convinced the city to do that as the official sign-over opportunity,” Museum Board President Fred Stonehouse said.

Over 1,500 people participated in the celebration, and they got a special treat—permission to wander the property practically unfettered.

“People had a chance to see what the city was acquiring,” Stonehouse said.

The old Coast Guard station on the lighthouse property. (Photo by Amy Gawry)

As a Coast Guard property, the area had been off limits to the public, unless they were part of a guided tour. The museum has been leading tours since 2006, when it signed a Historic Preservation Lease with the Coast Guard, giving the museum the responsibility of the building’s maintenance along with the privilege of using the building for tours.

During the party, the museum had staff around to answer questions, but the public could check the place out on their own, and get a preview of what it might be like as one of their city parks.

“The intent of the whole transfer was to turn it over to the city to be utilized as a city park,” Angeli said.

The high attendance at the event showed the community’s enthusiasm for the park project. They were excited to have access to the unique plot of land, and that this piece of history now belonged to the public.

Poet Esther Ayers of Marquette was excited about these things as well, but a recent project she was involved in made the news even more meaningful.

Earlier this year, the Marquette Symphony Orchestra commissioned a piece in celebration of its 20th season, composed by Griffin Candey. He chose Ayers to be the librettist, the person who writes the lyrics for the choral movements.

The symphony’s instructions were  broad—they wanted the piece to celebrate the region. Candey had the librettist do her part first, so it was Ayer’s job to narrow the theme. Before it was known that the deed signing and birthday party would take place this summer, she chose to draw the piece’s name and inspiration from Lighthouse Point.

“Originally I was going to focus on Presque Isle, but as the work progressed it became clear that it would be better to focus on Lighthouse Point,” Ayers said.

Ayers spent a lot of time researching Marquette’s history before writing. She found that, according to legend, Lighthouse Point was special to the city’s founder, Father Jacques Marquette, as well as to the Anishinabee natives, long before the lighthouse was built.

“That point of land, there’s a lot more to it than just the lighthouse,” Ayers said.

The Marquette Lighthouse is pictured here. (Photo by Amy Gwry)

The piece is called “Bagidaabii-Nayaashi,” which is the Ojibwe name for Lighthouse Point. Translated, it means “a good place to set a line” for fishing. While most of the movements are in English, one is in Ojibwe, matching the title.

“When I was trying to write about Lake Superior, I was finding that English was just not adequate for the job,” Ayers said.

Ayers’ writing mixes reflections of a Marquette resident and celebrations of the natural beauty of the region. Not everyone will see a strong representation of Lighthouse Point in the words, but Ayers still felt that the piece centered around that place and how it represents the mix of cultures that form Marquette’s history.

“Bagidaabii-Nayaashi” will premiere at the symphony’s Holiday Concert on Saturday, December 17, though the premiere will not be the only unique event connected to Lighthouse Point in the coming months.

The city is also getting ready for a public input meeting on the Lighthouse Point park project. As many are aware, the property’s use as a park did not begin on the day of the deed signing. After the event, Lighthouse Point was closed until the city could put together an official plan.

Since use as a park was the original intent, the city received some criticism from the community on not creating a plan in advance so that the park could be open right away. However, city officials noted, while they were confident they would obtain the property, it would have been presumptive to make official plans before it was actually in their possession.

Now that the property has been acquired, the city is in the planning phase of the park’s development.

Earlier this fall, the Marquette City Commission authorized a land use study, to be conducted by Sanders & Czapski Associates of Marquette, to guide the process.

Marquette city Mayor Dave Campana addresses the crowd at the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Maritime Museum)

“Czapski’s an expert at this; he’s done it all over the Great Lakes with other lighthouses and lighthouse properties,” Stonehouse said.

Public input is an important part of the study, and the firm is planning to schedule an input meeting for the end of November or beginning of December.

“We can hear from the public of what they would like to see, not just what we think we can do with it,” Angeli said.

Aside from public input, the study will look at the specifics of the property, how it can be best utilized, what concerns need to be addressed, and what operating expenses the city can expect. It will also take into account the stipulations of the transfer agreement and the regulations for historic building maintenance.

Lighthouse Point is home to three historic buildings—the lighthouse itself, the old Coast Guard station and the captain’s quarters.

The lighthouse building has been well-maintained by the museum the last 10 years, but still requires some interior improvements in order to meet the city’s fire code.

“Our hope would be that we would be able to reach an agreement with the city that would allow the Maritime Museum to use the lighthouse as a museum, and to continue to be able to take people on tours through both the grounds and the building,” Stonehouse said.

The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the beacon in the light tower, so that it can perform the job it’s been doing for 150 years—leading boats safely into the harbor. The old Coast Guard station, originally the life saving station, was built in 1891, and stands closest to the road. It’s in great structural shape, but needs some work inside. The captain’s quarters, the newest of the group, was added in 1941 and is in very good shape. Both the captain’s quarters and the old Coast Guard station have been idle since the Coast Guard left in 2010.

Commander Carolyn Moberley speaks during the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Maritime Museum)

Even with the stipulations, there are many options for the buildings’ uses. They could be leased to a non-profit such as the museum, used as a city building or leased to a business as a way to generate income for the park’s maintenance.

Once Sanders & Czapski complete the study, it will be presented to the commission, which will decide whether to use the recommendations in part or in full as it moves forward. The hope is that all the planning will be completed over the coming winter, so that by next summer the park can become a reality.

“I think people will be really excited to have that as part of the city park system,” Stonehouse said.

The date for the input meeting had not been set before Marquette Monthly’s press date, but will be publicized once it’s scheduled.

In the meantime, residents can look forward to this new park, which will preserve and celebrate the mixing stories and histories of Marquette.

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