Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2011

Wickie’s Wisdom

Secondary Sources and a Lighthouse on the Edge

By Timothy Harrison


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Poverty Island Lighthouse prior to its automation ...

As anyone who researches lighthouses and lighthouse history can tell you, oftentimes we all have to use information from a number of sources that we often refer to as secondary sources. This is generally done only after we have been unable to verify or find supporting information from primary sources such as historical documents, first hand accounts, local records, etc. In our case, it’s generally because of a limited budget that prohibits us from flying around the country to personally visit every local historical society, library, and other private sources.

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Poverty Island Lighthouse in its current state of ...

Since the information we find from secondary sources, such as on the Internet or some books, can sometimes be incorrect, we may, from time to time, report facts that are different from what is reported elsewhere, because we have determined that what we found is more accurate than what had previously been reported. However, to make matters even more confusing, sometimes even that information can be incorrect. This is true when researching anything in history, whether it is lighthouses, forts, famous people, etc.

We have files on many lighthouses where we have literally sent out dozens of letters and e-mails trying to locate and rediscover their lost history and photographs associated with them. Sadly, most of those letters go unanswered.

In our last issue we reported that Poverty Island Lighthouse in Michigan, which is on our Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses, was owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). This was information obtained from a secondary source, only after our original letters trying to determine ownership went unanswered.

After publishing our story, we received a letter from the USFWS Michigan Islands Wildlife Refuge, informing us that they have not affected a transfer of the Poverty Island Lighthouse and that they have no immediate plans to do so. Thus our reference to their apparent lack of concern was inaccurate. They went on to say that they had actually been working with others to secure the protection and management of the historic structures on Poverty Island.

Mark Vaniman, manager of the USFWS Seney National Wildlife Refuge, wrote, “Having a partner willing to take care of the structures is an important step in realizing the acquisition of the island by the USFWS should we decide it is beneficial to our mission.”

I would surmise that the key words there would be, “should we decide it is beneficial to our mission.”

Could it be that one of our government agencies wanted all the structures at the site to deteriorate beyond being able to be saved, so the island would have to revert back to nature and the wildlife? If so, it’s certainly getting close to that point. Or, is someone in authority worried about stopping treasure hunters from ravaging the area in search of the treasure from a ship that sank off shore from the lighthouse?

Since Poverty Island Lighthouse has, for all practical purposes, been abandoned since it was automated in 1957, we also have to wonder why it wasn’t one of the first lighthouses in the nation to be offered up for adoption under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

One thing is for certain: no one should underestimate the tenacity of lighthouse preservationists. If a lighthouse group should get control of the property, you can rest assured that Poverty Island Lighthouse would be wonderfully restored. And this could all be done in harmony with the wildlife of the area.

Timothy Harrison

Editor & Publisher

Lighthouse Digest

P.O. Box 250

East Machias, ME 04630


This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2011 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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