A new home: Historic Portage Channel light tower moved to final spot

Workers from Onekama Marine and Swidorski Bros. Excavating LLC get the structure on the truck at the marina.

ONEKAMA — It’s been a long journey, but a historic light tower is now at its final port.

The newly refurbished light structure was moved to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) launch site at the west end of Lake Park Drive near Onekama’s North Point Park Friday morning.

The move comes 26 years after a helicopter lifted the tower off the north pier of the Portage Lake Channel, where it was first erected 1930.

The light then went on display at Voyager’s Cove in Manistee until the Portage Lake Association (PLA) bought it. Until last year, the piece of maritime history was stored at Domres Construction on U.S. 31 near Norwalk.

“It was just laying somewhere,” said Jim Mrozinski, who owns Onekama Marine and is the chairman of the Portage Lake Harbor Commission. “It’s local history. It was there for years and years. It’s not good to have local history like that lost.”

The tower goes up. (Photos by John Counts/News Advocate)

Last year, the Harbor Commission purchased the light and it was hauled to Onekama Marine.

“There was an awful lot of work to do. It’s all been re-welded and re-painted,” Mrozinski said. “We had to rebuild the bottom of it. We built a light for the top. It’s got pretty space-age paint on it.”

The whole project cost about $15,000, according to Mrozinski.

Throughout the refurbishing process, a location for the light tower was also sought.

“We’ve struggled to try to find a place for this,” said Dennis Wickstrom, a member of Onekama Parks and Recreation.

They finally settled on the DNR launch on Portage Lake.

“In it will be a light that will add some ambiance, but it won’t interfere with any navigational systems,” Wickstrom said.

Friday morning, the 40-foot, 11,000-pound structure was moved from the marina to the DNR launch.

Swidorski Bros. Excavating LLC donated one of their trucks and manpower to transport the structure. Team Elmer’s supplied the equipment and brawn, also free of charge, to erect the structure on the concrete pedestal at the site.

Onekama Marina built the pedestal and painted it a familiar red.

“Almost all the lighthouses along the lake have that color on them,” Mrozinski said.

In the end, the township, PLA and harbor commission all helped bring the light tower to its resting place overlooking Portage Lake.

“It’s wonderful,” Mrozinski said. “I’m so happy it was saved.”

Tom Gerhardt, of the Manistee County Historical Museum, was also very happy to know the tower has found a home.

“People for many years boated around the north pier and saw the light as they came in and out,” he said. “Sometimes young people painted American flags on the cement base of the light. I remember walking out to it when I was young. It’s local and part of our lives. It’s meant something to us. It recalls a certain era in the harbor of Portage Lake.”

See more photos from the moving of the historic light tower:

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