Discover South Fox Island Light Station

Join us for an informal introduction to the South Fox Island Light Station and learn about our upcoming season!

Date: Wednesday, April 10

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Location: Maritime Heritage Alliance Building One (Ed Brown Building)

13268 S. West Bay Shore Drive, Traverse City–across from the Discovery Pier.


Update: The event presentation is available for viewing on youtube:

An unknown twin!

In researching the Assistant Keeper’s porches, we searched for whether similar porches were built elsewhere in this period.

In fact, we found two instances where almost identical porches were used. One was as part of an addition to the Chicago Pierhead Rear Range housing in 1911. The keeper’s quarters itself is quite different, though the alterations and additions done that year included the porch and balcony shown below.

Even more interesting is to discover a twin Keeper’s Quarters built in 1911 in Sheboygan, WI. While now updated and modified, it continues in use by the U.S. Coast Guard!

Front and rear elevations from the original 1911 plans.

Photo credits: 

Current photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Sheboygan Facebook page

Archival drawings: National Archives images digitized by U.S. Lighthouse Society (

Phil von Voigtlander Retires

Phil von Voigtlander recently retired from the Board.

As a Great Lakes sailor, Phil first visited South Fox Island in the 1970s and periodically for several decades thereafter. In his own words, “It was in 2001 that everything changed. Going ashore at the light station, I was struck by the deterioration of the buildings and overgrowth covering the sidewalks and impinging on the buildings. I was thinking someone ought to do something to save this historic treasure.” That began a more than two decade commitment.

Phil helped FILA in a wide range of ways, from helping with the original incorporation, captaining boats, assessing & managing projects, engaging volunteers, establishing the camper-keeper program, giving generously of time and money, involving young people in the project (Boy Scouts, Inland Seas, Youth Works), giving presentations, fundraising, and more beyond. Here’s a small sampling of his many contributions:

The boathouse prior to Phil’s involvement. He was instrumental in organizing volunteers to save it, personally bringing many of the materials to shore via dinghy, helped with roofing and repair, removed stone….

One of Phil’s achievements was securing roofs on buildings. In addition to the boathouse, he helped coordinate repairs to the Assistant Keepers roof (twice), worked on getting a new cedar shingle roof for the workshop, was involved in numerous repairs to the oil house roof, and saw metal over-roofs installed on the Fog Signal and Lighthouse. These would have been significant projects anywhere; making them happen on a remote island was huge.

Phil, in blue, helping push the newly acquired outhouse up the hill. This was one of many “how are we going to do this” projects.

Phil didn’t just do island work; a lot work was done behind the scenes. Here he’s shown helping build window covers in his shop.

Many thanks, Phil!



South Fox to be featured in U.S. Lighthouse Society’s publication

An article on the Sanibel class skeletals is planned for inclusion in an upcoming issue of the United States Lighthouse Society’s publication “The Keeper’s Log.” Due out in late February/early March, the story will describe these skeletals that were used from the North East to the Gulf Coast to the West Coast and as well as the Great Lakes.

There are a lot of interesting stories about these lights. One of them was the Waackaack, NJ light (built by a Detroit firm) that ended up being displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (shown behind the Viking Ship which was also a popular attraction at the fair.)

Our 1905 skeletal was relocated from Sapelo Island, Georgia in 1934,, another of the interesting stories of these lights.

To date, we’ve done relatively little restoration on this light, though volunteer John McKinney on the lead image painted the entry in 2021. Marty Rosalik, Tom McBride, Doug Noren, Kathy & Bruce Rollins, Carl Johnson and others have collaborated on restoring windows to secure the structure. Marty & Tom are working to restore the structure’s interesting door locking mechanisms this winter.




1867 Lighthouse Historic Photos Sequenced

A fair number of the station’s historic photos are undated. A volunteer recently attempted to sequence them based on documented changes to the buildings. Here’s the result of those efforts.

Most of these images below are from the National Archives except where noted.

The first known photo of the station is this 1884 image showing the fence that had been built around the lighthouse in 1880 to reduce drifting of snow and sand. The “lean to” has been added by this time.

The next known, but undated, photo is post 1898. It shows the 1895 Oil House, the original wood Assistant Keeper’s and the wood boardwalks connecting the buildings that were originally built in 1892 and enhanced after the new boathouse was built in 1897.

This 1907 map shows the position of various buildings and boardwalks, as well as the change in shoreline that necessitated moving the original boathouse and its subsequent replacement. (The location of the 1910 Assistant Keeper’s Quarters and loss of the Storage Building were penciled in later.)


This undated photo is pre-1914 (as the dormer is present in confirmed 1914 images). It shows the growth of trees surrounding the building.

These next two images are from 1914, showing front and side views of the lighthouse. The new 1910 brick Assistant Keeper’s Quarters is now present.


The next two images are from the 1917 University of Chicago Botanic Survey of the island. Both show increasing vegetation.


This circa 1930s photo is from the Fredrickson Collection, Northport Area Heritage Association. It shows the original wood assistant keeper’s quarters removed, making the summer kitchen visible for the first time.

This photo is identified as circa 1930, also from the Fredrickson Collection

This undated snow scene shows similar vegetation, suggesting a similar vintage.

This 1940s Leelanau Historic Society shows the shortened kitchen window. This was done as part of a kitchen remodel.

This 1963 photo shows housing buttoned up as the skeletal tower light had been automated by this time period.

The station was abandoned late 60’s. Later photos show the deterioration of buildings prior to FILA’s “on island” work beginning in 2006.

Read more

John Nelson Retires

Long-term Board Member John Nelson has retired after a two-decade involvement with the group.

John’s personal association with the island was even longer; his great-uncle Nels Nelson had been an assistant keeper in the 1920’s.

He was part of the original island assessment in May 2006 and many of the early work trips. He made presentations, flipped pancakes, helped with events and championed the station throughout his tenure.

Thank you for your service!

Annual Meeting Presentation Highlights

The FILA 2023 Annual Meeting was held at The Union in Northport December 6 with a mix of new and returning members and volunteers.

Highlights from the presentation follow:

The season started in May with clearing stone that had accumulated during the prior high water.

The next team re-shingled the east portico; performed seasonal screen door installations; installed the National Register sign and did extensive grounds work.

Team 3 included a mason and a paint crew. The 1867 tower interior painting was completed as was the parlor. The workshop exterior was scraped and painted; its chimney tuckpointed. Masonry work also addressed deterioration on the Fog Signal steps as well as repairs to the steps and retaining wall behind the Assistant Keepers Quarters.

Several teams contributed to the solar installation. The panels and much of the equipment were donated by St. Helena Island Lighthouse. The recharging station charges several solar generators that were provided under a DNR grant.

Another great project was finding and restoring the lighthouse’s original front screen door!

Completion of the tower masonry project finally allowed the front door inside to be properly trimmed out (the photo in the presentation is the “before” image with carpenter Ben contemplating the work to be done.)

Initial work began on the 1867 lantern room, removing the deteriorated sheet metal and the vent bases, trying to save as much of the original hardware as possible. Last year, volunteers had cut out and inserted Lexan in most of the plywood panels. This improved views for visitors and needed light to begin this work. Next year’s goal is to restore the window frames. Restoring the glass and vents are future phases.

In addition to the 1867 lantern room work, this team also reinserted an errant panel in the 1905 skeletal tower lantern room and removed door hardware to try to recreate worn and missing parts over the winter.

Other projects include installation of a screen door on the rear of the workshop, building a small deck for more secure propane handling and oil changes on the mower and generators.

August brought installation of restored windows both in the Assistant Keepers Quarters and the 1867 Lighthouse basement. It also saw some furniture deliveries: a restored Baker’s cabinet for the kitchen and a period appropriate cedar chest (shown in the newly painted parlor.)

The “Keeper’s Log” provides additional images from the season as does the Restoration page

The presentation wrapped up with plans for 2024.

It’s Giving Tuesday!

FILA continues to work hard restoring the Station, collecting & preserving its history and educating people on the role of Lighthouses in maritime history.

Please come along for the ride.

You can donate online at or send a contribution to:

Fox Island Lighthouse Association
P.O. Box 851
Traverse City, MI 49685




Need a special gift for someone?

Need a gift for someone special? Our friends at the Shoal Shoppe carry a variety of South Fox gear with proceeds going to support preservation efforts.

Items available include:

– Mugs (new in 2023)

– “I am a Keeper” Hats & T-Shirts

– Kathy Firestone’s book, “The Fox Islands” (still the best resource for understanding the history of the island and light station)

And more!

Give a gift that gives twice! Help support the project and give joy to a friend or family member!


Annual Meeting: Wednesday Dec 6, 2023

Join us at The Union, 107 E. Nagonaba St., Northport, MI 49670 on Wednesday, December 6 at 6 p.m. for season stories, music, food and good folks.