Northern Michigan In Focus: S.O.S. Vermilion

Imagine the shores of Lake Superior as a highway of sorts in the late 1800’s. Filled with boats in the great day of sail. But when they got into trouble there was no coast guard. The government created the lifesaving service and they needed a place to live. In this week’s Northern Michigan In Focus, Corey Adkins takes us to Vermilion.

“That’s what SOS is, it’s a distress call, and this station is in in dire need of some assistance,” said Grace Truman of S.O.S. Vermilion.

The Old Vermilion lifesaving station hidden on the shore of Lake Superior, West of Whitefish Point. It’s a place so beautiful, historical and remote but necessary in the late 1800’s when these waters were filled with boats hauling lumber and ore.

“The boats back in the 1800’s at first were sailing ships and very vulnerable to the storms. The lifesaving service was established to rescue the sailors that were close to shore,” explained Truman.

The sailors that did make it to shore were lucky, but imagine finding yourself without any food or shelter. That’s why this place is here.

“It was in response to an outcry from the public and the ship owners and the insurance companies because they would lose their sailors and lose their cargos and the lifesaving service was not only tasked to save lives, but also to save cargo,” said Truman.

There were 5 lifesaving stations built along the shores, which eventually got named The Shipwreck Coast. However, as the ships got bigger, the revenue cutter service and the lifesaving service merged and became the Coast Guard. Places like Vermilion were closed up and abandoned.

“It was no longer needed so they abandoned it and 1944 and in 1947 they sold it to a private party and the coast guard just walked away. They left practically everything here. They took their clothes and left,” said Truman.

Since 1944, Vermilion has changed hands a few times. Now the Little Traverse Conservancy owns the property but the buildings need to be cared for and that’s where S.O.S. Vermilion comes in. Right now, they’re working on the building most in need of some love. One built as early as 1876.

“Our goal is to preserve this station and restore it to what it looked like in 1876. Right now we need to raise between $50,000 to $60,000 to raise the station up and rebuild the flooring and the walls and construct a new foundation,” explained Truman.

Just think being able to walk around one of the most beautiful and secluded places in Michigan, imagining what life was like here in 1876.

“I hope they experience the majesty and grandeur of Lake Superior. And I hope that they have a respect for the power of that. A lot of lives were lost in Lake Superior, and I hope they develop her respect that we can educate them to the point that we know about the sacrifices that Lifesavers made,” said Truman.

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus