The Islands of Lake Michigan? There are many in the Northern one-third of the Lake to explore. The water is commonly clear to at least thirty feet of depth in this part of the Lake.
Some are a mere bump sticking above the water without a name. There are shoals, reefs and man-made lighthouses with water surrounding all four sides, while others have year round residents, bars, stores, roads, cars, restaurants and schools. The largest is Beaver Island.
Almost all of the Islands one has to sail to, just a few have a commercial ferry service or airports, as a result they are fairly pristine and not highly traveled bustling with people. They are quiet and relaxing.
A hard rock mass caused the ice in the ice age some 10,000 years ago to slide up and over this ridge in Lake Michigan. Once the ice left, these rock croppings stood up in the air, when the water filled in Lake Michigan, these rock croppings became islands.
1. Gull Island Nee Bellows
230 acres in size, uninhabited, has balsam and white cedar trees, has beaches and dunes on the north and east sides.
2. High Island
20,000ft X 26,000ft located 4 miles to the west of Beaver Island and owned by the State of Michigan. It got its name from the 200′ high sand dune on the western side of the island.
High Island was the home of a tree cutting and farm operation run by the House of David, a religious group based in Benton Harbor, MI who were vegetarians. This religious sect lived there from 1912-1927 growing potatoes and other root crops with a peak of 120-150 people.
Odawa Indians who were fishermen lived there before, during and after the House of David followers lived on the Island.
The Odawa Indians took over the island after the House of David members moved out in 1927. A public school stayed open until 1936. Then after the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard, the remaining Odawa Indians moved to Beaver Island. The Island is uninhabited today.
3. Trout Island
80 acres, privately owned, with an airstrip that goes from shore to shore, tree filled, with a private residence on the Southwest shore.
4. Whiskey or Whisky Island
96 acres, logged in the early 1900’s. Today conifer, balsam fir, aspen trees grow, bald eagles are found, endangered species such as dwarf lake iris, Houghton’s Goldenrod, Pitchers Thistle are growing on undeveloped land owned by the State of Michigan.
5. Squaw Island
The 75 acre Island is privately owned, shallow waters around 6′ surround the Island far out. Visitors are not welcome on the Island to see what is considered the greatest looking Lighthouse in the Great Lakes. Squaw Island Lighthouse –
In 1892 a lighthouse was constructed that flashed a red light for a fourteen mile distance, in 1928 White Shoals Light a few miles away was installed making Squaw Island Lighthouse unneeded and it was abandoned. Restoration is underway today, but the lighthouse is buried behind vegetation and can’t be seen from the water.
The name “Squaw Island” is thought to come from Native American women visiting the Island which was thought to increase fertility.
On December 14, 1900 Lighthousekeeper William H. Sheilds and Assistant Lighthousekeeper Owen McCauley closed the lighthouse for the season. They stepped aboard an open 25′ Mackinaw sailboat along with family members Mrs. Shield, her neice Lucy Davis, 2nd Assistant Lighthousekeeper Lucien Morden and Fids, Shields sheppard dog.
A storm whipped up and the boat capsized and turtled. Mrs. Sheild and Lucy Davis were tied onto the bottom of the upside down boat with their legs in the water and the men clung on. Sadly, Fids succumbed to the icey water and disappeared. Lucy Davis gave up, sang Nearer My God to Thee, and passed away at 6:30pm. Mrs. Shields could not stand the cold any longer and begged to be lowered into the water, she passed at 8:30.
Lucien Morden couldn’t take it any longer, slipped into the water and disappeared. The steamship SS Manhattan crossed their path, rescuing William Shields and Owen McCauley and recovering the bodies of the two women, stunned that they survived the snow, cold and freezing conditions for 23 hours. Arriving in Manitowoc, WI, Shields had frostbitten feet, hands, had the lower part of one leg removed and was paralyzed on one side of his body.
Owen McCauley faired much better, was treated and released, headed out to Beaver Island where his wife had been preparing birth of their child, which Owen attended.
6. Garden Island
4,990 acres, uninhabited today, was the grounds of the Anishinaabeg Indians living there year ‘round growing corn & squash up until the last inhabitant passed in the 1940’s then the properties were abandoned to the State of Michigan. Some whites moved there when the Morman’s on Beaver Island made it unbearable for them. Anishinaabeg is the name given to all Great Lakes Native peoples. A logging operation clear cut the Island in 1912-1913 with a town built called Success, Michigan, now a ghost town. An Indian graveyard has 3,500 inhabitants and is open to visits by Native American people.
7. Little Island – Within Garden Island Harbor
1,400 ft. X 2,000 ft. rock, stone and trees.
8. Hog Island
Owned by the State of Michigan, about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. It is the most undisturbed island, swampy, and spawning grounds for yellow perch and smallmouth bass. Threatened terns, and threatened plants including Houghton’s goldenrod, Lake Huron Tansy, and Pitcher’s thistle are found growing here. The island is heavily forested with old-growth northern hardwood as well.
9. Grape Island (or Grape Spit)
In high water years it is separate from Hog Island, and in low water years it is part of Hog Island. It’s 9,000 feet long and 500 feet at its widest as a tail off the southwest corner of Hog Island.
10. Ile Aux Galets (Island of pebbles) aka Skillagalee
Ile Aux Galets is three quarters of the way from Beaver Island to the Michigan shore and 700′ by 1,200′.
I had heard of “Skillagalee” for many years in my youth, and at age 15 traversing this area, I was instructed to go look at the chart and see how far away we were from this treacherous spit of land that is barely above the water. I searched and searched, I couldn’t find “Skillagalee” on the chart. Oh no! This is when I found out that the sailors call the place “Skillagalee,” but the chart makers call it Isle Aux Galets. Only Lighthouse keepers lived on this island from 1850 – 1969.
11. Hat Island
Is a bit swampy and natural at 10 acres. It is part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. It is a breeding ground for herring gulls and other fish-eating birds. During World War II, it was used as a practice bombing site by the U.S. Navy.
12. Pismire Island
A whopping 2.5 acres and gravel covered with litte vegetation. The archaic word pismire means “ant,” referring to the island’s tiny size.
13. Shoe Island
About 3 acres including glacial boulders and gravel.
14. Horseshoe Island, MI
700 feet off the east coast of Hog Island. Horseshoe Island is about 500ft X 1,100 ft.
15. Tim’s Island
400 feet by 1,700 feet connected to Hog Island via an isthmus on the mid East side. A scrubby narrow partly tree filled island.
This should really convince you want to buy a sailboat and a good dinghy with an outboard, and spend at least one summer exploring the Isles of Lake Michigan seeking adventure. Away from everything, and nature at its best.
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