One of the South Channel Lights stands in Lake St. Clair.

One of the South Channel Lights stands in Lake St. Clair.

File photo by Deb Jacques

Group’s mission to save South Channel lights continues

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 1, 2023


ST. CLAIR SHORES — The South Channel lights sit in Lake St. Clair, and it’s the mission of the Save Our South Channel Lights organization to preserve their history through restoration for generations to come.

Kathy Brady, the group’s secretary, said Save Our South Channel Lights is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by Charles Brockman.

“Him and his wife were avid boaters that used to go out in Lake St. Clair, and often went by the lighthouses and saw how decrepit they were in the ’70s and ’80s,” Brady said. “And he said, ‘Somebody ought to do something about that.’”

This prompted him to found the organization in 1988.

The range lights were built in 1859 to allow sailors safe passage through Lake St. Clair, and they were decommissioned in 1905 when the government no longer had any use for them, Brady said.

“They had actually dredged a new channel, at which point the border between Canada and the U.S. was changed with that dredging,” Brady said.

Brady said the need arose for the set of range lights as boats got bigger and bigger and started carrying heavier cargo. Some of that cargo grew to include iron ore used during the Civil War for weapons and munitions.

“The boats used to have to come up the Detroit River from Lake Erie into Lake St. Clair,” Brady said. “The average depth of Lake St. Clair is just over 4 feet, so a lot of times, those big ships would run aground, and they couldn’t drive at night because it was dangerous.”

Range lights, Brady explained, are a pair of lights that work together. A smaller one sat about 1000 feet in front of the other one and sailors lined them up to make sure they were in deeper, safer waters, Brady said.

When there was no dredging and no lights, ships would stop overnight or when the weather turned and anchor in the bay. The town Anchor Bay subsequently earned its name from this, Brady said.

“When the boats used to have to stop at nighttime, they’re losing money and they can’t travel, so it would take longer to get to where they were going, so they would have to anchor,” Brady said.

The range lights used to have a keeper’s dwelling, but Brady said it’s a mystery what happened to it.

“They really don’t know what happened to it,” Brady said. “We do know that the remains of the house are not there around the lighthouse.”

They know the government didn’t burn it down after it no longer served a purpose, Brady said, because they have documentation of people renting it out after it was decommissioned. There is also documentation about a storm that swept through Harsens Island and Lake St. Clair in the early 1900s that destroyed many buildings.

According to the Save Our South Channel Lights website, one of the lights started to lean heavily to one side in 1875 and was dismantled and rebuilt using the same materials.

Gary Strobel, president of Save Our South Channel Lights, said the front light is currently leaning heavily to one side, prompting the need for fundraising. Brady said it is the third time in history it has leaned heavily to one side.

“We’re trying to raise the funds to do the foundation work that will straighten up the light,” Strobel said. “It’s estimated to be about $500,000 to $750,000 that we need for that.”

Right now, they currently have $160,000 saved in cash and investments, Strobel said. The group is also involved in events such as art fairs, and there was a golf outing to raise money.

Ways the public can help include coming to the events, donating and applying for a membership.

“We’re doing some incentives to drive memberships,” Strobel said. “It entitles you (to) a newsletter and decals from the organization and we also have some merchandise that is sent to you, depending on the level of membership that you enroll in.”

More repairs are also in the organization’s plans.

“Our goal is to restore the fence on the rear light and to continue to raise funds for the front light,” Strobel said.

He said more restoration work has been done in the last couple years.

“What we’ve seen is a lot of damage caused by mother nature with the high waters and winds,” Strobel said. “We did do some restoration on the shed. We had to totally rebuild that. We spent approximately $10,000 on that to rebuild and restore that.

The group meets quarterly at the Chesterfield Fire Department to plan and resolve issues.

“They’re still standing tall today because of the way they were constructed and the group efforts to restore them and to save our heritage,” Strobel said.

Brady said the group has raised close to $900,000 since its inception and has had two match grants. They also raise money through the sale of merchandise and memberships and through weddings and tours out to the grounds of the lights.

Brady said people are welcome to the events they are at. The group is also asking for any information or photos people have about the lights. She also said with things like the keeper’s dwelling, there are huge gaps they are trying to fill with the provided history.

“If somebody knows something about the South Channel range lights, call us up or send us an email because we really do want to learn as much about this history as we can,” Brady said.

On June 24, they will be at the Algonac Michigan Chapter Antique & Classic Boat Show held at the Algonac Harbour Club. For more information about the lights go to their website at