Detroit Lighthouse Depot
by Jerry Wise

The Detroit Lighthouse Depot is a grand structure that is reminiscent of old-world, brick construction. Located next to the U.S. Coast Guard property, the 1874 three-story building is currently closed, but worth seeing and photographing. While operational, the depot stored illuminating oils, fuels, buoys, lenses and other equipment needed to maintain lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes. When no longer serving as a depot, the building was used as a Coast Guard headquarters, but has since been transferred to the City of Detroit for potential transformation into a museum. The former depot is located at 3766 Wight, off Mt. Elliott Street and just east of Harbortown Condominiums.

Under early laws, the lighthouses were subject to supervision by the collector of customs, with an occasional inspection by a naval officer detailed for that purpose. The office of lighthouse inspector was created by Act of August 31, 1852, and since that date officers of the United States Navy have been assigned to the duty of inspection. It is their duty to see that lighthouses are kept in order and that keepers discharge their duties properly, and to attend to the furnishing of the supplies for the various stations. The inspector has charge of the placing of the nearly two hundred buoys on the shoal or dangerous places in the district. All of the larger and second-class buoys are brought to the supply depot at Detroit, at the close of every season, and replaced as soon as the ice will permit.

The inspector is provided with a vessel of from three hundred to four hundred tons, named the Dahlia, with a crew of seven officers and fifteen workmen and sailors; and during the season goes from place to place, distributing supplies for the lighthouses and steam fog-signals. The main portion of the supplies are obtained from the depot of supplies at Staten Island, N. Y., where articles of a uniform and unvarying standard are kept. Such articles as oil, coal, soap, brooms, and other necessities for which there is no regulation standard, are bought at Detroit. A large supply and storage depot, owned by the Government, is located in the rear of the Marine Hospital. The office is located on the northeast corner of Griswold and Larned Streets, and the office force, in addition to the inspector and assistant inspector, consisted of one clerk, two copyists, and one messenger.

In 1869, the United States Marine Hospital gave part of its property on Mt. Elliott Avenue to the Treasury Department for a lighthouse depot. The Lighthouse Service began building a permanent warehouse there in 1871, but it was not finished until 1874. The resulting storage building, still standing and largely unaltered, is an impressive three-story brick building measuring 40 by 60, with a gabled roof supported by iron trusses. This handsome structure was part of the U. S. Coast Guard Group Detroit headquarters until recently, when the Federal Government transferred it to the City of Detroit, which plans to use it as a museum.

In 1927 the 69th Congress authorized the transfer of the five acres of lighthouse property at Windmill Point to the U.S. Treasury Department for the site of a new Marine Hospital. The City of Detroit Engineering Department filled in submerged portions of the property at no cost. The 125-bed facility was built to serve the needs of the U.S. Veterans' Bureau of Detroit.

Excerpts from: The Northern Lights by Charles K. Hyde; “Paradise Lost” discussions at “Detroit Yes!” Web-site; The Great Laker magazine “Detroit Steeped in time, article by Janenne Irene Pung; History of Detroit and Wayne county and Early Michigan by Silas Farmer [1890, chapter 86]

Click on image to enlarge

Photograph by Sue Davis

Location: Foot of Mt. Elliott Street, Detroit.
Date Built: 1874
Active: No.

Open to

Detroit Parks Department

The building itself is now used by the City of Detroit Parks Department. The riverfront area is still a USCG base.

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