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Ohio vs. Michigan  if you are from Ohio, particularly Columbus Ohio you will recognize the significance of this rivalry.  it runs deep and people often choose devotion to one or the other running as deep as political rivalries or even religion.

Can’t we all Just get along??!!!! …Nope… Well sorry, suck it up; For one small island in western lake Erie we’re just going to have to put all of that aside and get along because Turtle Island is split between Ohio and Michigan!  I guess it’s all a mute point since nobody lives there anyway.

 Turtle Island History

Turtle Island has a quite interesting history as it seems to be waning into obscurity of history.   Turtle Island had served as a fort during the Battle of 1794. By 1827, the United States government no longer had a need for it and auctioned it off in Monroe, Michigan to Edward Bissell of Lockport, New York. Bissell had  intended to preserve the tiny island as a piece of Northwest Territory history, however by 1831 the US government purchased the land back from Bissell for $300. This was done in order to erect a lighthouse  to illuminate the northeast mout of the Maumee River to facilitate commercial navigation in the area.  Congress originally appropriated $5000 to build the lighthouse and $2000 to resolve an issue of constant erosion on the island.

In 1831 Philo Scovile was contracted to build the lighthouse. His design featured a 40 foot tower topped by an octagonal black lantern with used eight lamps and reflectors to produce a fixed white light. Connected to the tower was a 1½ story dwelling including a parlor, dining room, bedroom, and kitchen.

By July of 1836, an extraordinary rise in the level of Lake Erie had reduced Turtle Island to a shadow of its former size.  In one amazing year the island went from its previous 6.5 acres just over an acre. This was caused by a substantial rise in lake levels.  Turtle Island is also unlike many other Lake Erie islands since it is primarily composed of clay and gravel causing issues of massive erosion.  In a desperate attempt to protect their investment, the government implemented a plan conceived by Isaac S. Smith, Superintendent of Public Works in Buffalo, New York. Under this plan, the size of the island was reduced to roughly a half acre by driving a double row of piles around a portion of the island and then using the area outside the piles as fill to elevate the land inside the piles. Good soil was then brought in from the mainland to cover the island. Smith’s plan cost $16,700 to implement and proved effectual in preserving the lighthouse.

For the next 2 decades the Turtle Island Lighthouse continued to operate successfully.  However, by 1857, its lamps and reflectors were in terrible condition, and a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern room.  This increased sailor visibility to about 14 miles compared with the prior 6 mile range of the old light.

After the Civil War, Congress appropriated another $12,000 to build a new lighthouse on Turtle Island using Milwaukee brick. The square, light tower stood forty-five feet tall, featuring a cast-iron staircase, and was attached “church-style” to a one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling,  similar to the lighthouses at Marquette Harbor and Ontonagon. The tower was capped with a black lantern and retained the former lighthouse’s Fresnel lens. Access to the tower was through a door on its west side. Above this the year of construction, “1866,” was carved in sandstone. On September 12th 1866, Turtle Island’s new tower shone through the night for the first time. During the following years, a cistern, fog bell, and well were added to the station.

turtle island lighthouse 1866

Erosion continued to plague the now tiny island.   Storms had caused severe damage to the island’s pile protection, and in 1884 a concrete retaining wall was built around the exposed sides of the island. During the same year, a storm house was built at the rear entrance to the dwelling, storm sashes were provided for the windows, and a cellar was dug under the dwelling. A new boathouse was erected in 1893.

This allowed Turtle island to continue functioning through 1904 when it was determined that

the shipping lane off Turtle Island was too shallow to accommodate the large ships sailing to and from Toledo. A new straight channel with a width of 400 feet and a depth of 21 feet was dredged through Maumee Bay, and Toledo Harbor Lighthouse was constructed atop a pier in Lake Erie to mark the entrance to the new channel.


turtle island lighthouse 1885Once decommissioned, Turtle Island again found itself at public auction.  This time, A.H. Merrill bought Turtle Island in December of 1904 for $1,650.  The lens from the lighthouse was removed and taken to the Maumee Bay range lights to be shipped to the Buffalo lighthouse depot. After that nobody is sure what became of it.

After the original 1904 transfer, ownership of Turtle Island changed several times. Throughout the next 30 years, Vandals destroyed the property and stripped the structures.

By the late twenties, the island was the property of Captain George Craig. Around this time, The Toledo Blade reported, “Vandals have wrecked the house, stealing everything that could be salvaged from the structure except the grim, bare walls which stand as a monument to the service this light rendered for nearly half a century.”

In 1933, the Associated Yacht Club of Toledo leased Turtle Island with plans to restore the lighthouse and use the location for the club and its harbor. The club abandoned the project by 1937, and the vandals continued to further the damage.

turtle island lighthouse 1885 2For a brief moment during the 1930s, Turtle Island’s future looked hopeful. In 1933, the Associated Yacht Clubs (AYC) of Toledo leased Turtle Island to establish it as a summer yacht club. AYC worked hard to restore the house and refinish the tower, however by 1937 the project was abandoned as they decided that the island was too remote for many of its members.

Once abandoned, Turtle Island was again at the mercy of vandals. And what people did not destroy, the Palm Sunday tornado of 1965 did. This fierce storm blew the lantern room off of the light tower, demolished the keeper’s quarters and destroyed most of what the vandals hadn’t.

In the early 1990s, Terry Mohn of Point Place started the nonprofit Turtle Island Lighthouse Restoration Association organized with a plan to enlarge the island, restore the lighthouse and build a marine park. Those plans also failed.  Robert Wiley and Richard Martin purchased the island in June 1990 for $45,000 and had gave Mohn an option to acquire the property for around $70,000.

After agreeing to purchase Turtle Island in $500 monthly installments from Jim Neumann for $57,500, Keith Fifer announced his plan in 2002 to restore Turtle Island Lighthouse, combat the erosion, and make the island available to the public. Fifer and Chris Bodi, his partner in the development, succeeded in building three vacation cabins on the island before a Monroe County Circuit judge in Michigan issued a stop order for failing to obtain proper building permits.

In 2008, Michigan officials sought, and won, a demolition order for lack of proper permits or a plan to deal with sewage that the proposed business would generate.

Before demolition could begin ice floes of 2009 moved across the island destroying many of the newly constructed structures on Turtle island.

turtle island 2009 damage

One other main issue with commercial development was that for many years there was a problem involving the state boundary line between Ohio and Michigan, though.

Turtle Island was entirely part of Michigan for many years, but in 1802, Ohio had set its boundary lines to include all of Turtle Island, Michigan disputed the line, and the final boundary line, which divided the island equally between the two states, was not settled until a Supreme Court decision in 1973.

The Supreme Court decision gave half of the island to Michigan and the half of the island with the lighthouse went to Ohio.

Today the once proud 7 acre property complete with a lighthouse, boathouse, and orchard sits eroding away into the lake.  The now 15 acre island is covered with debris, trash, and remnants of shattered hopes and dreams.

Turtle Island is still privately owned and no trespassing is permited.


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