The first four life-saving stations on Lake Superior were all built in 1876 on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan on what has been called the “Shipwreck Coast” and the “Graveyard of the Lakes.” All four are of the same 1876 Lake Superior-type, the only stations constructed in the country of that design. Of the four, including Crisps, Deer Park (also known as Muskallonge Lake) and Two Heart River, only the Vermilion station remains.
In order to expand living space, two additions were made to the 1876 building, and a boathouse and watch tower were also added to the grounds. It is not known exactly when these changes took place but they can be seen in photographs dating to 1907. In 1938 the Coast Guard added three new buildings: a Roosevelt type station house, an Officer-in-Charge quarters, and a four-bay garage/boathouse. In 1940 the station was consolidated with the Crisps Point station, seven miles to the west, with Crisps’ personnel moving to the Vermilion station. Four years later the Vermilion station itself became unmanned as it became a sub-unit of the Whitefish Point Coast Guard Station while only a caretaker remained at Vermilion.
The Vermilion station was declared surplus and was sold to a private party in 1947. The station was acquired by Evan Noyes in the early 1970’s and some restoration was started in 1974. Noyes donated it to Lake Superior State University in 1977, which used it for research and educational purposes. In 1994 the University returned the property to Mr. Noyes, who then established the Wild Shore Foundation. The land and buildings were subsequently acquired by the Little Traverse Conservancy in 2007.
These structures are located on 175 acres managed by the Little Traverse Conservancy as a nature preserve. This organization, in cooperation with Lake Superior State University and other organizations, utilizes one of the 1938 Coast Guard structures, but not the 1876 USLSS building, for research purposes. The four-bay garage is the only structure that has been renovated inside and out. The Roosevelt station and OIC Quarters have siding and windows on them but their interiors have been completely gutted. Although it is not within their mission to maintain or restore the 1876 building, the Conservancy has performed some work to prevent further deterioration, such as re-sheathing the roof in 2011.
A stabilization and relocation feasibility analysis was performed in 1995. In 2005 the USLSSHA paid for a Historic American Building Survey to document the current conditions and architecture of the station (http://memory.loc.gov/pnp/habshaer/mi/mi0700/mi0716/data/mi0716data.pdf). A structural assessment of the building was completed by preservation architect Rick Neumann and published in September of 2010.
While the 1876 structure is not part of their land and wildlife conservation mission, the Conservancy recognizes its historic significance. Since acquiring the property in 2007, they have indicated that they would welcome proposals from interested historic preservation groups to preserve the building. They would prefer to have the station moved from its current site as their conservation goals are in direct conflict with attracting visitors to the historic station. A formal request for proposals was issued but attracted little attention until recently.
Recently, the Crisp Point Light Historical Society (CPLHS) expressed an interest in moving the station seven miles west near the site of the former Crisps Life-Saving Station. This would maintain the historical context of the station and would be compatible with the goals of the CPLHS to attract visitors to their site.
On January 11, 2014 a meeting was held to bring together members of the CPLHS, the Little Traverse Conservancy, and others interested in the preservation of the station. Both the Conservancy and the Historical Society seem eager to proceed with such a move. The Conservancy not only remains patient while fund raising occurs, but is willing to help with the process. Current estimates are about $39,000 to stabilize the structure and prepare it for moving, and about $50,000 to move it to Crisp Point.
In the summer of 2014 the Conservancy and CPLHS signed a letter of intent, formalizing their agreement to move the Vermilion station to Crisp Point. At a meeting in October, attended by an architect from the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, the LTC agreed to pursue an application for National Register status.
The immediate need now is for people to pledge financial gifts. When enough money is pledged, stabilization and preparation for moving will begin.
To pledge financial support for the Vermilion Life-Saving Station contact Grace Truman at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Traverse Conservancy: http://landtrust.org/
Little Traverse Conservancy Vermilion project: http://www.landtrust.org/Newsletters/Summer07.pdf
Crisp Point Light Historical Society: http://www.crisppointlighthouse.org/