Demise of the Maumee Bay Range Lights – Fall 1980

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Steve Cook

Maumee Bay Cribb Light. Image from the United Sates Coast Guard historical archives.

Back in 1957 a memorial service was held in Maumee Bay in which a large number of boats, including my own and many more from Ottawa River Yacht Club, took part. Wreaths and flowers were strewn on the waters depicting the memory (or celebration) of the removal of Cribb Light, which had been declared a hazard to navigation.

At one time there were two channels from the Maumee River into the bay. Both were only 9½ feet deep in places. Finally one was adopted which was referred to as the crooked channel and averaged about 13 feet in depth. This was the old Monroe- Detroit channel coming into the bay between Turtle Light and Bay Point. As more and larger ships came to Toledo, it became evident that this channel was inadequate and in 1887 the United States Government approved the building of the present “Straight Channel”.

It was completed and opened in 1892 with a 17-foot depth and was 300 feet wide. The Government made a survey and on May 3, 1899, they ordered the Maumee Bay Range Lights (Cribb Light) and the placement of lighted bouys marking the channel, also the dredging to 21 feet. Two years later they had piled enough stone to build two wooden towers to form the original lights which were 1,300 feet apart and not connected. The keeper had to row back and forth each morning and night to tend the light on the far end which was quite hazardous in bad weather, so in 1907 the two ends were connected together with stone. The light remained this way until 1918 when the two steel towers were built.

As ships were being built larger and faster, the problem of collisions with the Cribb, which was in the center of the channel, became very evident. In 1925 three ships collided there. They were the dredge Willets Point, the sailing yacht Lady Lampton and a freighter.

With the coming of better navigational equipment and still larger and faster ships, it was suggested as far back as 1931 to remove the Cribb Light, but at that time another survey was made and it was decided that by widening the channel, this obstacle would be overcome. In 1936 the channel was widened to 500 feet, with a 300-foot channel on each side of the Light.

Some of the other ships involved in collisions at Cribb Light were the John Anderson, which struck the Cribb May 27, 1932; and the Adriatic, inbound with a load of ore, collided with the Canadian Tanker, Oakbranch on August 19, 1941, causing great damage. On August 29, 1945, the tug Barkhamstead was towing the barge Constitution when a storm in excess of 60 mph came from the Northwest and blew the Constitution into the Cribb, causing considerable damage to the dock and buildings.

On September 21, 1947, the tug Jesse James was towing the barge Maida, when high winds drove the Maida into the Cribb so hard that when she was towed off, she sank in 27 feet of water and blocked the channel for 15 days. This was the worst accident occurring in the bay and cost $270,100 to raise and repair the Maida. The last ship to hit the Cribb was the Alpena on October 14, 1953, with a loss of $68,000.

These collisions were a great factor in the decision to remove the Light, but there was another factor other than safety which was not so readily seen, and that was the great financial saving, not only in maintenance of the Light, but also time saved in shipping. It is estimated that there were 5,500 round trips a year by ships passing the Light. The average speed of a freighter was ten miles an hour and the speed limit past the Cribb was five miles an hour. This amounted to twenty-three sailing days lost each year just in the length of the Cribb and the average ship, costing $2,000 a day to operate, which would amount to a savings of $46,000 a year. With the increase of operating expenses and the ever increasing number of ships, this amount was rising each day. In addition to this was the cost of maintaining the Cribb and a keeper which was approximately another $46,000 a year, so there was $92,000 a year that would be saved by removing the lights at that time.

During its lifetime, there have been several keepers at Cribb Light. The first man to keep the lights was Wm. “Hickory” Jennings, who was stationed there when the Cribb was built. He stayed on many years until he was quite old. Then in the early 1930s he retired and a man named Chauncey Fitzmorris took over. Mr. Fitzmorris was the keeper of the old lighthouse on West Sister Island and when the U.S. Coast Guard installed an automatic light on the Island, he was moved to the Cribb Light. Mr. Fitzmorris stayed at the Light until June of 1941, and on his retirement was replaced with the last keeper, Arthur G. Bauman who lived there with his 87-year- old mother after they retired and moved to south Toledo.

The keepers were all civilians, employed by The Lighthouse Service. (I knew Mr. Bauman who told me some of his interesting and hairy experiences while serving as keeper of the Light.)

However, in 1957 we said “goodbye” to an old friend of many of us-Cribb Light.

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About the Author: The author of this article, Mr. Steve Cook, was a late member of the Great Lakes Historical Society and a contributor to Inland Seas®, who passed away on January 7, 1980. A notice of his death appeared in the Spring issue of our Journal. A resident of Toledo, Ohio, he was Historian of Associated Yacht Clubs, and held various offices in several other associations, including that of Historian of the Blue Gavel Club, an international society of Past Commodores. His interest in Great Lakes history and boating included service as a crew member of the steamer Greyhound. He was also the owner of several boats over the years, one being the Sea Cook,- well known in Toledo’s harbor.

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