Bay City Times    6/16/2003

Wanted: Lighthouse keeper for relatively new navigational aid on Saginaw Bay. Must be willing to live in Caseville, keep lighthouse windows. Clean and make sure the light stays lit. If interested, should also have access to fairly big bag of cash.

That’s how a classified advertisement might read for what’s become William Crane’s labor of love: A fledgling condo project perched on the Pigeon River in downtown Caseville that also contains a real lighthouse commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“ If you buy the condo with access to the lighthouse, then you’re the lighthouse keeper,” Crane said. “But no curtains. You can’t put any curtains in the lighthouse windows.”

That would kind of defeat the purpose of the lighthouse, which casts a beam of light 5 1/2 miles out into Saginaw Bay from Caseville Harbor. The beam shoots out for a half second every 10 seconds each night from dark until dawn.

I was surprised to learn that the lighthouse is the real deal. When I first saw workers attaching it to the harbor side of the condo project just over two years ago, I thought it was fake. You know, just an ornament for a guy trying to sell something by using a popular maritime theme.

Decorative lighthouses pop up everywhere throughout northern Michigan. They usually have little to do with navigation.
For example, the Laker school district near Pigeon has a huge lighthouse attached to the high school. Very attractive, but no ships in sight, just cows and tractors trying to find a way home.

Heck, I’ve even got a little lighthouse that sits next to my garage and overlooks the driveway, but it provides almost no help. Our vehicles always end up in the garage cockeyed.

Lighthouses are becoming a thing of our past. Most of the big ships that ply the Great Lakes today have very sophisticated navigational equipment and don’t rely on lighthouses anymore.

Plus, the U.S. Coast Guard is trying to get out of the lighthouse business these days, selling lighthouse property on the Great Lakes wherever it can. One Coast Guard official told me that new lighthouses are commissioned when they can provide a service to boaters and when they don’t cost taxpayers anything.

Getting the lighthouse commissioned by the Coast Guard was important, Crane said, because it provides his navigational aid governmental immunity should the light ever falter and a boat ends up running aground as a result.

The lighthouse and the condo project, which is now called Caseville Harbor Light condominiums, have become something of a passion for Crane, a board member of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Museum in Mackinaw City.

“I wouldn’t call myself a lighthouse buff, but I’ve long had an interest in them,” said Crane, a Saginaw County circuit Judge in his other life. He pops in and out on the condo project when needed. “This whole project is my hobby and it’s something I want to see through to the end.”

He’s had the property that the condos sit on for nearly two decades and he’s toyed with a number of ideas for developing it. The lighthouse idea took off, though, when he learned that the Coast Guard was open to the idea of officially commissioning one at Caseville Harbor.

Crane says he patterned the lighthouse after Point Leelanau Lighthouse. It stands 65 feet tall, has an eight-sided cupola with a widow’s walk and is topped by a red metal roof. The lighthouse is crowned with a 12-inch ball and bird’s beak, a device that keeps seagulls and their droppings off the roof.

The lighthouse serves as a range light for the harbor channel. It lines up with the green navigational light at the end of the Caseville breakwater.

The Coast Guard anointed the lighthouse in 2001, just before the grand opening of the first phase of the condo project. Interest in the project was high until terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11 of that year.

“Everything just went flat after that,” Crane said. “The economy, the stock market, real estate, the steam just came right out of everything.”

Since then, however, interest has resumed. Four of the six condos In the project’s first phase are now sold or spoken for. One of The remaining condos is the lighthouse keeper’s abode.

Here’s the bottom line on It. Crane is asking $236,900, which is not cheap, but not outrageous, either, by today’s standards for waterfront condo living.

“I have one prospect who is real interested in it,” Crane said. “It will go. Lots of people have dreamed about being lighthouse keepers, and this place has the best view of the harbor in town.”

It also features two private balconies, two bedrooms, two baths and a boat slip with access to Saginaw Bay. Plus, the whole place is already furnished.

Crane is now taking reservations for the next phase of the development. He’s eager to keep the momentum on his project going. But first he hopes to find a lighthouse keeper.


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