Huron Lightship Museum History

Lightships were like floating lighthouses anchored in areas where it was too deep, expensive or impractical to construct a lighthouse. Lightships displayed a light at the top of a mast and in areas of fog also sounded a fog signal and radio beacon. The fog signals used over the years consisted of bells, whistles, trumpets, sirens and horns. Fog horns were powered by steam in the early days and later by air compressors. The HURON Lightship sounded her fog signal in a 3 second blast every 30 seconds and was known locally as "Old B.O." because of the familiar sound her horn made.

She was stationed at various shoals on Lake Michigan until 1935 when she was transferred to Corsica Shoals in Lake Huron, approximately 6 miles north of the Blue Water Bridge and 3 miles east of the Michigan shoreline. For the next 36 years she guided mariners into the narrow dredged channel of lower Lake Huron leading to the St. Clair River. In the past, large lighted horn buoys and offshore towers (Texas Towers) replaced some lightships. When retired from active service in 1970, she was the last lightship on the Great Lakes.

Acquired by the City of Port Huron by mandate of area residents, the ship was enshrined at Pine Grove Park in 1972 as a tribute to her vigilance and in fond memory of a by-gone era. In 1989 the HURON Lightship was designated a National Historic Landmark. She is the only lightship on the Great Lakes to be so honored.

LIGHTSHIP 103 (WAL 526) built in 1920 at a contract price of $147,428 by the Consolidated Shipbuilding Corp., Morris Heights, NY (No Hull Number assigned). Keel laid June 5, 1918 and launched May 1, 1920 as a) LIGHTSHIP 103 for the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Commissioned December 22, 1920. 86'6"loa, 69'5"lbp x 24'x 11'9"; 340 tons displacement in fresh water. Powered by an 185 ihp compound steam engine and two coal-fired Scotch boilers. Her hull originally was painted red with the lettering "RELIEF" on her sides. Her equipment included a 10 inch steam whistle for a fog horn and one acetylene lantern with a 300mm lens for a signal light. Lightships are officially designated by their number, however they bear the name of their current station, or duty, on their sides. LIGHTSHIP 103 completed her sea trials December 4, 1920 and was delivered to the 12th District Headquarters at Milwaukee, WI on June 9, 1921 to begin her Great Lakes career. She was assigned RELIEF from 1921 to 1923 primarily on Lake Michigan and to Michigan's GRAYS REEF from 1924 to 1926. Her signal light was electrified in 1927. In 1927 and 1928 she was RELIEF again and in 1929 at GRAYS REEF. Later in 1929 she was RELIEF until 1933. In 1933 her fog signal was changed to a 17" Leslie typhon steam diaphragm horn. Next she was assigned to the NORTH MANITOU Shoal station in 1934-35 and for the remainder of 1935 as RELIEF. Lightship 103 replaced the previous Corsica Shoal stationed lightship at the Lake Huron cut beginning in 1936, a station that had been established since 1897. Her hull was painted black with the white lettering "HURON" on both sides of her hull since she was assigned the black buoy side of the entrance to the Lake Huron Cut. The Lighthouse Service merged with the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. From 1945 onward she was the only lightship in service with a black hull. Typically LIGHTSHIP 103 remained on station from early April to late December. She usually wintered at the Coast Guard Station at the foot of Mt. Elliot in Detroit. In 1949 LIGHTSHIP 103 was extensively rebuilt at a cost of $168,000 and converted to diesel power with two six cylinder GM 6-71 engines at the DeFoe Shipbuilding Co., West Bay City, MI. A short funnel was installed during her engine conversion. Rated speed: 9 knots (10.4 mph). Her updated equipment included a radio-beacon, radar, a two-tone diaphone fog horn, plus a standby horn, which sounded a three second blast every 30 seconds synchronized with the radio-beacon for distance finding. Her crew consisted normally of six to seven men, of a total of eleven, with tours of duty 18 days on and six days off. In November, 1952 the lightship at Gros Cap Reef in Whitefish Bay was withdrawn from service leaving LIGHTSHIP 103 as the last lightship on the Great Lakes. LIGHTSHIP 103 was withdrawn from service on August 20, 1970 as the oldest lightship in the Coast Guard. Five days later she was decommissioned and laid up in the Black River at Port Huron, MI. On June 5, 1971 the lightship was acquired by the City of Port Huron. On August 29, 1972 the lightship was placed in an earth embankment at the city's Pine Grove Park along the St. Clair River and was opened to visitors on July 13, 1974. Over the years the vessel was vandalized and neglected until a group of volunteers from the Lake Huron Lore Marine Society began restoration work. On August 2, 1990 the lightship was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark. LIGHTSHIP 103 had been almost completely restored and was opened to the public for tours and remains so at this time.

Lightship statistics

Year keel laid 1918
Year accepted by USLHS 1920
Year withdrawn from active service 1970
Year declared National Landmark 1989
Length overall 97 ft.
Beam 24 ft.
Draft 9 ft. 6 in.
Displacement 310 tons (fw)
Anchor 2.5 tons
Maximum ship speed 8 knots
Mast height above loaded water line
Lantern mast 52 ft. 6 in.
Main mast 42 ft. 9 in.
Ship's Company 11 or 12 men