South Haven lighthouse porthole photo

Will Hart of Improvisational Craftsman, is shown looking out one of the six portholes that will be restored on South Haven’s historic lighthouse. Hart has been hired by the Historical Association of South Haven to do the restoration work.

Six years ago, the Historical Association of South Haven embarked on an ambitious $300,000 fundraising drive to restore the town’s historic lighthouse.

With the goal realized in less than a year and the the popular lakeshore landmark restored to its former glory in 2017, the historical group is now turning its attention to providing light to the interior of the beacon, whose fresnel lens guided sailors to South Haven’s harbor for more than a century.

The historical association has contracted with Will Hart, owner of Improvisational Craftsman in Casco Township, to replace the six port holes that once provided light into the 33-foot-tall beacon that stands at the entrance to the city’s harbor.

“In the early 1970s, the Coast Guard removed all but one of the portholes from the lighthouse,” said Jim Ollgaard, president of the historical association. “At that time there were continuing problems with vandalism and the need for interior light was taken care of by the electric lighting that had been installed years before.”

But with restoration of the lighthouse complete four years ago, the historical association was left with one nagging thought – all but one of the historic portholes, with the exception of one, had been removed and covered over with metal.

Feeling that the restoration had not been fully accomplished, the historical association decided to take action this year.

“The Historical Association of South Haven, the owners of the light, have an agreement with the National Park Service to maintain the exterior as it was in the 1950s and in accordance with that agreement, HASH has begun a replacement program for the portholes,” Ollgaard said.

Earlier this month, one of the circular blanks, marking the location of one of the beacon’s six original portholes, was removed in preparation for the installment of the first new porthole.

“Will Hart has done the design and fabrication of the new portholes and will be doing the installation as well,” Ollgaard said. “There are 6 portholes. One was never removed, so, five will be replaced. Vandalism has been addressed by using really thick plastic instead of glass and they are designed so the clear plastic can be easily replaced. Installation involves cutting out the steel blank currently in place, grinding the hole to fit the cylindrical portion of the porthole and then bolt it to the wall of the light, sealing it with a thick gasket and marine caulk.”

The historical association hopes to replace all of the portholes by the end of 2022.

When the task is accomplished, the South Haven Lighthouse will be one of the few historical beacons on Lake Michigan with restored portholes.

“The list (of lighthouses with visible portholes) would not be long,” Ollgaard said.