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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mamajuda lighthouse

The island that would eventually become known as Mamajuda appeared in this 1796 French map of the Detroit River, where it was listed as “Jones” Island. The title “island” is actually somewhat aggrandizing, as throughout modern history virtually all of its 25 acres have been located beneath the surface of the river with only varying amounts of low-lying wetlands protruding visibly above the surface.

Photo: The island that would eventually become known as Mamajuda appeared in this 1796 French map of the Detroit River, where it was listed as “Jones” Island. The title “island” is actually somewhat aggrandizing, as throughout modern history virtually all of its 25 acres have been located beneath the surface of the river with only varying amounts of low-lying wetlands protruding visibly above the surface. 
1876 map  showing the location of Jones Island

The island eventually became known as Mammy Judy after an Indian woman by the same name who regularly camped on the island during the fishing season prior to 1807. Because the shallow island was located smack in the middle of the main shipping channel between Grosse Isle and Fighting Island, the Mammy Judy lighthouse was established on the southeast side of the island in 1849. Erected atop a grid-work of vertical piles driven into the river bed, the station was outfitted with 4 Lewis patent lamps with 14” diameter reflectors in a birdcage style lantern 35 feet above the water. This photograph shows the Mammy Judy lighthouse as it appeared circa 1852.

Photo: The island eventually became known as Mammy Judy after an Indian woman by the same name who   regularly camped on the island during the fishing season prior to 1807. Because the shallow island was located smack in the middle of the main shipping channel between Grosse Isle and Fighting Island, the Mammy Judy lighthouse was established on the southeast side of the island in 1849. Erected atop a grid-work of vertical piles driven into the river bed, the station was outfitted with 4 Lewis patent lamps with 14” diameter reflectors in a birdcage style lantern 35 feet above the water. This photograph shows the Mammy Judy lighthouse as it appeared circa 1852. 
The original 1849 Mamajuda lighthouse

The cropped section of an 1876 chart of the Detroit River below shows the location of the Mammy Judy light station and graphically shows the danger largely submerged island would have represented to mariners making their way along the river, and the reason it was considered necessary to establish a lighthouse to mark the island's position in 1849.

 Photo: This cropped section of an 1876 chart of the Detroit River shows the location of the Mammy Judy light station and graphically shows the danger largely submerged island would have represented to mariners making their way along the river, and the reason it was considered necessary to establish a lighthouse to mark the island's position in 1849.
1876 chart of the Detroit River showing the location of the Mamajuda lighthouse

With the exception of upgrading the Lewis lamps to a Sixth Order Fresnel lens in 1855, little maintenance appears to heave been undertaken at Mamajuda, and after only fifteen years it was evident that the pilings on which the lighthouse was erected were rotting badly and the lighthouse itself had deteriorated to the point that it was considered barely inhabitable. As such, the old lighthouse and foundation were demolished in 1866 and the new structure shown here erected to replace it.

Photo: With the exception of upgrading the Lewis lamps to a Sixth Order Fresnel lens in 1855, little maintenance appears to heave been undertaken at Mamajuda, and after only fifteen years it was evident that the pilings on which the lighthouse was erected were rotting badly and the lighthouse itself had deteriorated to the point that it was considered barely inhabitable. As such, the old lighthouse and foundation were demolished in 1866 and the new structure shown here erected to replace it.
The 1866 Mamajuda lighthouse


If the 1866 Mamajuda lighthouse appears familiar, it could well be because it was built as a twin to the Mission Point lighthouse which was established at the north end of the Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City four years later. This photo shows the Mission Point lighthouse as it appeared circa 1880.

Photo: If the 1866 Mamajuda lighthouse appears familiar, it could well be because it was built as a twin to the Mission Point lighthouse which was established at the north end of the Mission Peninsula north of  Traverse City four years later. This photo shows the Mission Point lighthouse as it appeared circa 1880
The Mission Point light station was built to the same plan as Mamajuda

In order to better mark the down-bound channel from Grassy Island to Mamajuda, in 1892 the Lighthouse Board requested a Congressional appropriation of $1,500 to erect a front range light upstream of the island to range with the existing Mamajuda lighthouse. Congress approved the expenditure the following year, and the new timber structure in the river was completed and ready for lighting on July 16, 1894. This 1902 photo shows this structure and the elevated walkway which provided access for the keeper from his dwelling beneath the rear light.

Photo: In order to better mark the down-bound channel from Grassy Island to Mamajuda, in 1892 the Lighthouse Board requested a Congressional appropriation of $1,500 to erect a front range light upstream of the island to range with the existing Mamajuda lighthouse. Congress approved the expenditure the following year, and the new timber structure in the river was completed and ready for lighting on July 16, 1894. This 1902 photo shows this structure and the elevated walkway which provided access for the keeper from his dwelling beneath the rear light.
The Mamajuda Front Range Light established in 1894

As a result of constant erosion from the wake of passing vessels, between 1900 and 1904 a number of changes were undertaken to improve the conditions on Mamajuda. Thousands of tons of rip-rap stone were transported to the island to elevate it further above the water. The old rear range lighthouse was transported across the river to serve as a dwelling for the keeper of the Grosse Isle light and a new rear range structure with a circular tower was erected on the improved ground on Mamajuda. This postcard from 1909 shows the structure as it was rebuilt in 1904 and gives a good sense of the improved living conditions which resulted.

Photo: As a result of constant erosion from the wake of passing vessels, between 1900 and 1904 a number of changes were undertaken to improve the conditions on Mamajuda. Thousands of tons of rip-rap stone were transported to the island to elevate it further above the water. The old rear range lighthouse was transported across the river to serve as a dwelling for the keeper of the Grosse Isle light and a new rear range structure with a circular tower was erected on the improved ground on Mamajuda. This postcard from 1909 shows the structure as it was rebuilt in 1904 and gives a good sense of the improved living conditions which resulted.
The Mamajuda lighthouse as rebuilt in 1904

Over the years, the Detroit River was continually dredged to make a safe channel for increasingly larger vessels, and Mamajuda island became washed away, largely as a result of erosion by the bow waves of these huge vessels. Today, Mamajuda Island is largely covered by water, with only small portions of the island appearing above the water's surface during periods of lower water, and the resulting shoal area is now marked by the Mamajuda Shoal buoy.

This crop from Google Earth shows that Mamajuda Island is now virtually submerged.
However, the pilings which supported the old lighthouse can readily be seen beneath the water.

7 comments:

  1. Went scuba diving at Mamajuda the other day. Although the island is totally submerged, all of the original pilings are still there. Sad to see it all eroded by the water. Thanks to all that procure history through sites like this one.

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    1. How deep are the pilings under the water? I would love to go stand there when the the water level is low.

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    2. How deep are the pilings under the water? I would love to go stand there when the the water level is low.

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  2. Thanks for the comment. We added an image of Mamajuda Island from Google Earth which shows the pilings around which you dove.

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  3. Is there any way to get more information about your sources for this post? I'm working on a project about Mamajuda and am having a hard time finding resources and photos.

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    1. I wrote the article using my own research from numerous sources, including Lighthouse Board annual reports, Great Lakes Light Lists, archived newspapers, etc.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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