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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lighthouse log books from South Haven are being digitized at WMU Libraries

A new digital collection is being created by Western Michigan University Libraries. The lighthouse journals from South Haven, Michigan span from 1872 to 1887. The hand written log books will be fully digitized in high resolution and available in a book reader format online in an image database set up by the library. The team of library science professionals is adding complete metadata to the 3 book collection which will aid in searchability and complete data for the scholarly and casual researcher alike.

James Donahue served as the keeper of the South Haven station for most of the period from 1872 to 1887. An earlier keeper, Captain William P. Bryan completed the first entries. The logs have been scanned to provide access to an insight into the daily duties of the light keeper. Donahue provides detailed entries about his daily activities and tasks in the Light Station. He provides information about the temperature, weather conditions, names and owner’s names of some of the incoming vessels, and maintenance of the lighthouse. The journals record commerce and pleasure crafts passing in and out of the harbor. Donahue provided descriptions about shipwrecks, including the name of the ship and the fate of the crew. In addition to accounts of the operation of the lighthouse, Donahue also provided intimate insights into the lives of his family and sometimes community members. He notes deaths in the community and the occasional body washing ashore. He also mentions the lumber trade and other activities associated with commercial shipping. Donahue’s descriptions are particularly rich. The Archives and Regional History Collections branch library at WMU houses the originals.

A sampling of the transcription highlights significant events as well as daily weather and reports on the fuel for the light:

Aug 15 (First notation by James S. Donahue, keeper, Lighthouse, South Haven, MI)

The wether plesent wind modrate very warm and smokey a grate many fires in the Woods. U.S. tender went north

Aug 19 Woods is afire in all directions grate fears of the town beain burndt up

Sep 1 Steamer Gem Capt Bryant sunk in the River this evening with sixty three barrels of lime. She was over loaded cargo all lost.

Sep 4 the steam tug Gem was raised and took up the river

Sep 18 three schooners unloaded soon on the North Pear today

Sep 24 Excursion from Calamazo of the Insain Asilam about three Hundred

Oct 5 I received my pay from Grand Haven today one hundred and thirty five dollars (for three months)

Apr 12 opened the light today two schooners went out one had to run back wind blowing a gale to night

May 11 Thay is a report that the schooner D.G. Wright went ashore in the night and all hands lost twelve miles north of this placed the wind Blowed fearfull from half past Ten to twelve (midnight)

One book has been published online and is accessible through the libraries website at this time. Many groups will be interested in these unique journals from the hand of the light keeper himself. There are few that have survived. Plans are for the next books to become available this summer.

Link to the first book: