Couple hopes to restore lighthouse - WNEM TV 5

Couple hopes to restore lighthouse

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A Mid-Michigan couple is restoring a lighthouse that once guided ships in the Saginaw Bay during the 19th century.

The couple bought Charity Island, where the lighthouse stands, 23 years ago.

They couldn't touch the lighthouse because they didn't own it until now.

Charity Island is located in the middle of the bay.

"It's an important remnant of our maritime history in Arenac County. It's the only lighthouse we have," said Robert Wiltse, owner of Charity Island.

He and his wife Karen want to preserve the lighthouse. They own the attached house and took possession of the tower this year. The lighthouse was built in 1857 and President Abraham Lincoln made the island a federal lighthouse property in 1865.

Since then the lighthouse has fallen into disrepair.

"We are on a mission now reaching out to people all over our area to raise the money to restore this important landmark out here," Wiltse said.

The couple is looking at forming a non-profit group or cooperation with a historical society to fix the lighthouse. They're looking at raising between $250,000 and $300,000.

Part of the plans for the lighthouse is to make it operational again like it was back in the early 1900s.

"The unique history about this tower is that it was one of the first to be automated using acetylene gas. There are lighthouses all along the Great Lakes that have the fresnel lenses. This could be the showcase lighthouse that shows that new technology that arrived here in 1917 with this acetylene gas valve," Wiltse said.

The Wiltse's also operate a lighthouse tour and dinner cruise to the island. They bought the island in 1993 and thought about developing a subdivision there. They said they decided it would be best to leave the island the way it is.

"We fell like we're caretakers out here and we feel a responsibility now to see this tower get restored before it goes much further in decline," Wiltse said.

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