Round Island (Lower St. Marys River)
By Dave Wobser

This article originally appeared in Great Laker magazine.

Most real estate agents will tell you that the three most important considerations in a new home are location, location and location. If you are a developer with an interest in preservation, and your wife is well known interior designer, and you are looking for a little solitude near the water, the Round Island Lighthouse in the lower St. Marys River is an ideal project.

Charlevoix businessman Paul Lindberg, and his wife Georgeann, have spent 19 months, over a three year period, turning a dilapidated 100-year old building into a wonderful summer home that is a blend of old and new.

An added bonus is that the lighthouse is adjacent to the St. Marys River shipping channel and provides a great viewing place for vessels headed to and from the Soo Locks. A second attraction is the bird population on the 9-acre island. Two blue herons nested on the island in 2002, and the Lindbergs have identified nearly 30 other species of birds.

How do you find a place such as Round Island? As Lindberg tells the story; "Some four years ago, I was looking for a place to hunt ducks in the lower St. Marys. Boating around to the front of Round Island, I knew immediately this was the place for us."

"I never set foot on the privately owned island, but went straight to the tax assessors office to determine the current ownership". Contact was made with the owners, and after an offer and counter offer, Lindberg became the owner of a dilapidated lighthouse on an obscure island.

"Our assessment of our new purchase showed that the square wooden tower was only three to four years away from falling down due to deterioration. The first project was stabilization with a new roof and repairs to the siding," explains Lindberg.

Built in 1892, to help guide vessels through a group of islands in the St. Marys River, the 1-1/2 story, wood frame keepers dwelling has a square wooden tower attached to the front side facing the river. A gabled kitchen was attached to the rear. Originally the small building was divided into four rooms on the first floor and another four under the eaves. The upper rooms were divided into two bedrooms plus a small workroom and a storage room.

The original iron hexagonal lantern room remains, but the light was moved in 1923 to a nearby skeletal tower sitting on a 20 by 40-foot piece of land retained by the Coast Guard. Following the move the lighthouse was transferred to private hands. The island and lighthouse had been owned for over 30 years by a family from Maine, who had only been on the island once in all that time. Lindbergs are only the third private owners of the property.

A primary concern of the Lindbergs has been to do the restoration and modernization in a manner that is pleasing and maintains the basic historical architecture of the site. The original lighthouse plans showed the front door facing the river. Sometime in the past the door had been moved, but Lindberg has restored to its original position. The new windows are larger than the original ones to provide better viewing and light.

Over the past three years, the main floor has been converted to a large living space and the second floor houses two nice size guest rooms. An addition has been added to the rear of the original structure to house a master bedroom, two modern bathrooms. The kitchen, which connects the old and new parts of the dwelling, has been totally renovated with all the modern conveniences.

Substantial effort and expense was put forth to maintain, as much as possible, the original exterior and interior appearance. The original ash floors were saved and the floors in the new addition have been done in matching ash. The square wooden stairs to the second floor and tower have been restored. A rotted wooden post that supported the stairs has been replaced with a hand carved figurine of a New England lobster fisherman. The post adds a whimsical touch while performing a vital function.

A two-level deck has been added around the front of the structure. Much time and study was put into the design of the deck to insure that the dwelling and tower remain the focus of attention to the river side of the home. Lindberg explained, "We wanted to maintain the vertical integrity of the light tower." The new deck provides a wonderful place to read a book, drink coffee or just watch the freighter traffic.

One can only imagine the logistic problems of tackling a renovation project on an island. Lindberg admits that it had significant impact on the cost and time of the renovation. A marshaling point was established near the town of Raber, and all the materials, workmen and equipment were transported to the island on a 24-foot pontoon boat that would normally be used for family outings.

The most difficult items were the large plate glass sections for the shower stalls and the side-by-side refrigerator. "The refrigerator was a real beast to haul up the rocky shore", according to Lindberg. To reinforce the foundation, basement, boat dock and other areas, a total of twelve tons of concrete were mixed by hand on the island.

One of the first projects was to construct a boat slip for bringing materials and workers to the island. The rocky island was not hospitable to boat landings, but a new slip was dug to a depth of 4-1/2 feet and was constructed in such a way as to provide a fish habitat as well as provide protection for a couple of small boats. The finished product impressed the Department of Natural Resources. Twelve different government agencies had to sign off on the boat slip before it could be built.

Major hurdles to overcome included water, sanitation and electric service. A 24,000 volt electric cable was run from the mainland near the town of Raber to the island. The line provides capacity to serve Lime Island across the shipping channel in the future. River water is treated in a reverse osmosis-filtration system installed in the basement, and a sewerage filtration system has been installed on the island.

Inside the lighthouse has been tastefully furnished in what might be termed ‘contemporary comfortable’. The furniture is crisp with clean lines, but presents a warm and inviting feeling. Mrs. Lindberg, who works as an interior designer, has had several of her projects featured on the Home & Garden Channel (HGTV). The Round Island Lighthouse is scheduled to be on a future segment of HGTV.

New, larger replacement windows in the old structure provide tremendous views up and down the river. Windows in the new section look out on the landscaping surrounding the dwelling.

Lindberg takes pride in his ability as a landscaper, and it shows in the several acres surrounding the renovated structure. In order to plant grass and flowers on the rocky shore near the lighthouse, he found a vein of sand down some eight feet near the center of the island. Using a backhoe, the sand was transported to the lighthouse grounds and spread among a number of large boulders. The grass, flowers, rocks and birch trees make an impressive setting.

Currently, a path is being cleared around the perimeter of the island, wide enough for two people to walk. The next project will be constructing a dock on the west side of the island for a small tug and barge to provide transportation to the island for friends and materials.

The Lindbergs spend a great deal of time on the island, but prefer Florida keys (islands) in the winter, even though the lighthouse is heated to 50 degrees the year around. To prevent vandalism and other problems, a local caretaker is present whenever the Lindbergs leave the island.

 Future plans include a hovercraft that would provide access to the island over the winter ice.

Click on images to enlarge

Freighter view - Herm Klein

The finished product - 2003. Andy LaBorde

Post Renovation Images
by Andy LaBorde

2010 photo - Dave Wobser

Location: St. Marys River
Date Built: 1892
Active: No. Replaced by a skeletal light located nearby.

Open to

No. May be viewed from a private boat off-shore.
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