WMU project puts spotlight on lighthouse logs, late 1800s life on South Haven coastline

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of a lighthouse logbook on a scanner.

Student Lawrence Stout scans pages of a lighthouse logbook.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Life on the South Haven shoreline during the late 1800s is being brought to life through the digitization of three lighthouse logbooks by technicians at Western Michigan University Libraries.

The South Haven Michigan Lighthouse Logs is a new digital collection that has been created to give a lifelike representation of lighthouse journals from 1872 to 1880. Library science professionals have gone to great lengths to digitize logbook entries in high-resolution TIFF images, bringing realistic logbook pages to computer screens across the nation and globe in a page-turning "BookReader" format.

One of a kind

It is believed that this is one of the first comprehensive digital lighthouse logbook collections now available to the public online. Most of the entries were completed by James Donahue, who served as keeper of the famous South Haven station for most of the period the collection covers after taking over for Capt. William P. Bryan, who completed the first entries. The entries illuminate the daily activities of the light keepers station, ranging from mundane weather reports to dramatic events, including shipwrecks, daring rescues, bodies washed ashore and forest fires sweeping the mainland.

The three logbooks were donated by the Van Buren County Historical Society and have been held in the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections for many years. The collection was placed on microfilm, but that did not render the logbooks available to thorough examination.

"We've tried to make the content available and have tried to be very responsible in preserving them," says Sharon Carlson, director of WMU Archives and Regional History Collections. "And now the responsible thing is having a digital copy and making them more accessible to a broader audience."

Read more about the collection in the summer issue of the WMU Magazine.

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