Presque Isle, Neighbor to the North

Presque Isle, Neighbor to the North

The geography of Posen Township in its origin, included a somewhat narrow strip of land that extended to and bordered on Lake Huron. On the northern most point of this territory, and as early as 1839, white men came to establish a foothold. From a brief writing of Helen Wallin, we have assembled these historic facts.

Presque Isle was first occupied by the Indians who were drawn there by the abundance of fish which was their staple food. It was named by the French during the fur trade and became an established historic spot on the map of Michigan. As the fur trade declined, fishing became important and eventually it was noted as a wooding station for the steamers on the Great Lakes.

Migration from the Eastern states began after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the lakes and rivers of Michigan were the only way of reaching its shores and eventually the interior.

By 1835, the spirit of land speculation had commenced and lake travel flourished as the number of passengers increased. Previous to this the early commerce of the lakes was confined to provisions and goods for the Indians and supplies for the troops stationed at the several outposts in the territory.. On return, the cargoes were furs and other matters collected for the Eastern trade.

The land originally owned by the Indians, who claimed it since before recorded time, and known as the Thunder Bay Area, was ceded to the United States March 28, 1836.

In 1837, Michigan gained its statehood and one of the first acts of the new Legislature, through its representatives in Congress, was to ask for federal aid to navigation on the Great Lakes. Recognizing this need, Congress appropriated $5,000.00 for the lighthouse at Presque Isle.

Surveys were immediately commenced and bids for the buildings were advertised in the Democratic Free Press in Detroit on July 17, 1839, by Abraham Wendell, Superintendent of the Light Houses from the District of Michillimackinac. It was built by Jeremiah Moors of Detroit and equipment for the lighting was furnished by John Scott, who also, on September 7, 1840, certified that the light house and dwelling "were acceptable, built of good materials and finished in a workmanlike manner and according to contract".

A visitor to Presque Isle in 1840, reported finding a dock, store, a frame dwelling, a log barn and several log shanties owned by Lemuel Crawford of Cleveland. References are also found regarding Burnham's Landing and the first post offices at Presque Isle was in the home of Fred G. Burnham, first postmaster, around 1856.

Henry L. Woolsey was appointed first keeper September 23, 1840, at an annual compensation of $350.00. Following him were Stephen V. Thornton, appointed September 30, 1849, Lois J. Metevier, appointed September 30, 1855, and the last keeper, P. "Geratey", appointed September 30, 1861.

In 1868, the annual report of the Light House Board states that: "After due consideration of the subject, it was determined to recommend the removal of the light (the original light built in 1840) to a site about one mile north of the present one so as to make it answer the purposes of a much needed coast light, instead of being a mere harbor light as it now is. Owing to the character of the entrance to the harbor, the light is of little value to guide vessels into it. If the removal of the light is made as contemplated, its powers must be increased, which involves the necessity for an additional appropriation which should also provide for the establishment of the range lights to guide into the harbor. With the arrangement now proposed, this fine harbor of refuge will become available, and the requirements of commerce for a coast light on the point of the peninsula will be at the same time full met."

When the new light house was established, Garrity was transferred to it in 1871. The records show that Mrs. Mary "Geratey", his wife, was appointed assistant keeper at the transfer on June 23, 1871. Following Garrity's retirement in 1885, the position was filled by his son, Thomas.

The Garrity family is a tradition in the area. Children born to Patrick and Mary Chambers Garrity were John, the eldest born on Mackinac Island and came to the old light house as a small child. Then there was Thomas, Patrick, Mary, Kathryn, and Anna. The rest of the children were undoubtedly born at the old lighthouse.

In 1897, the Old Presque Isle House was sold to E. O. Avery who sold it shortly afterwards to General Duffield. A year later the General sold it to Bliss Stebbins. Frances B. Stebbins, its present owner, purchased if from his uncle in 1930.

Frances Stebbins and his wife, Annette, have since that time maintained and preserved this early Michigan landmark for this moment of recognition, dedication and honor as one of the earliest structures built on the shores of Lake Huron in the State of Michigan.