South Haven, Michigan, Lighthouse Logs, 1872-1889

The lighthouse journals from South Haven, Michigan span from 1872 to 1889. James Donahue served as the keeper of the South Haven station for most of the period from 1872 to 1889. An earlier keeper, Captain William P. Bryan completed the first entries. The logs have been photographed to provide access to an insight into the daily duties of the light keeper.

Photo courtesy of Historical Association of South Haven

courtesy of Michigan Maritime Museum

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 descriptions of the operations and family dynamics are especially compelling for incorporating this in the classroom. The materials lend themselves to the technology of lighthouses, transportation, commerce, maritime, and the lifestyle of the lighthouse keeper and his family. Selected transcriptions for some of the logs are available.

courtesy of Michigan Maritime Museum

This collection was made possible by Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections, Michigan Maritime Museum, and Western Michigan University Libraries Digitization Center.

More about the South Haven Lighthouse Logs