Lighthouse keeper honored with street name

Capt. James Donahue (sitting to the left with his crutches) is shown with family members in this portrait taken in the side yard of the lighthouse keepers dwelling on Michigan Avenue in South Haven.

SOUTH HAVEN — Several years ago, local folk singer Pam Chappell wrote a song in honor of the late Capt. James Donahue, South Haven’s famous lightkeeper who kept the beacon’s light glowing for more than three decades during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now, she thinks city officials should name a street after him.

Chappell got her wish Monday, when City Council members voted to install an “honorary” street sign on Water Street to signify the important role Donahue played during South Haven’s early years.

“A few years ago at the Maritime museum I happened upon the captain’s log,” Chappell said. “The more I read about him I thought, ‘wow, this guy is amazing.’”

Donahue served in the Civil War before coming to South Haven. During the war after being wounded twice, doctors amputated one of his legs at the thigh. Despite the infirmity, Donahue went on to serve as South Haven’s lightkeeper.

“He served for 35 years and that was not an easy job in those days,” Chappell said. “He was known to save 15 people from drowning.”

For his service he was awarded the Silver Life Saving Medal by the U.S. government.

“We need to recognize this man as a part of our history,” Chappell said.

City officials decided the honorary sign should be placed on Water Street because the roadway leads to the harbor, piers, Lake Michigan and of course, the lighthouse.

When the blue honorary sign is erected it will be placed alongside the green Water Street sign.

“This action would not impact the official street name or addresses in the area, but would pay homage to Captain Donahue’s service to the community,” City Clerk Travis Sullivan said

If Chappell had her druthers, she said she’d rather see Water Street completely renamed – “‘Water’ is kind of an innocuous name for a street anyways,” she quipped, but she said she’s happy to see Donahue’s deeds will be commemorated – especially this year, the city’s sesquicentennial.