Monday, March 2, 2020

Lost Towns of Illinois - Taylorsport, Illinois and the Story of the Taylorsport Lighthouse.

By 1835, Chicago's population had reached 500 and Mr. Anson Hartshorn Taylor decided it was too crowded and moved his family north 19 miles. He purchased 160 acres of former Indian land at $1.20 per acre (totals $4,200 today). The area where he built his cabin soon became known as Taylorsport; now Glencoe.
Anson was involved with building a 500-foot pier extending into Lake Michigan. The pier was used for shipments of firewood, lumber, charcoal, and local produce to Chicago. In 1840, Anson kept a Tavern and Inn, said to be called "The Pier House," on Green Bay Road near his new pier.
Anson Hartshorn Taylor (1806-1878)
By June of 1853 discussions were going on about the possible need of a lighthouse at Taylorsport. On June 29th, a letter was sent from the 11th District Engineer to the Department of the Treasury's Lighthouse Board proposing that a lighthouse should be built at Taylorsport. Nothing was done, at that time, relative to building the light. However, by early 1855 the local political pressure for a light had reached its peak and the Lighthouse Board began to make plans for a Taylorsport lighthouse.

On February 13, 1855, the State of Illinois ceded jurisdiction of land at Taylors­ port to the US government. The land in question was owned by Mary C. Taylor, Anson Taylor's mother, and on March 13, 1855, she deeded approximately 2 acres of land to the US Government for the sum of $100. By August 18, 1855, the Lighthouse Board had received the first proposal for building the lighthouse. They could not proceed because the title papers had not yet been verified. The US Attorney General ap­ proved these papers on October 15th.

On September 15, 1855, a contract to build the Taylorsport Lighthouse was signed with David Shook, a contractor from the Detroit area. The amount of the contract was $3350 with the U.S. Government to supply the illuminating equipment at no cost. Unfortunately, problems were found with this contract and it was canceled on November 7, 1855.

In May of 1856, a new proposal for the Taylorsport Lighthouse was received by the Lighthouse Board and on June 9, 1856, a second contract for building the lighthouse was created. This contract was signed with David Shook at a cost of $3900. He was to build the lighthouse at Taylorsport and have it completed by October 10, 1856. The Lighthouse Board approved this contract on June 23, 1856. The Taylorsport Lighthouse was identical in design to the Port Clinton light, including a 6th order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was completed on time, but due to the tin1e of the year, the light was not activated, although a keeper named Thomas Mc Mahon had been hired as of August 4, 1856.

In March of 1857, 11th District Inspector, W J. Smith, reported that the new lighthouse was already in need of repair and suggested that there was no necessity for a light at this location. In May he also suggested that the installation of the illuminating apparatus be delayed until October 1857 and the light not be activated until the spring of 1858. The Lighthouse Board did not agree and sent the illuminating appa­ ratus immediately. It was installed and the light reported ready for activation on July 29, 1857. The Taylorsport light began operation in August 1857.
The Taylorsport Lighthouse (1857-1859), circa 1900, before being razed.
The 11th District Inspector G. H. Scott again recommended that the light be discontinued on April 2, 1859. Just as had happened with the Port Clinton Lighthouse, the calls for the closing down of the Taylorsport Lighthouse were too numerous to be ignored and the Lighthouse Board began deliberations concerning its closure. Finally, on June  6,  1859,  the  Lighthouse Board decided that Taylorsport was to be discontinued. Notices to mariners on the Great Lakes were sent out indicating that the light would be discontinued as of the first of August 1859. The lighthouse illuminating equipment and lantern were removed and sent to the 11th District Depot in Detroit.

The keeper, Mr. Mc Mahon, was kept on as a custodian of the former lighthouse property and began to pay rent for the premises. Keeper Mc Mahon failed to build a replacement for the lantern that had been removed by the government. He simply installed a few boards over the opening at the top of the tower causing the structure to begin to deteriorate rapidly. Mc Mahon continued as caretaker until May of 1861 when the first request was received requesting his removal. The Lighthouse Board began looking for a new custodian and Thomas Mc Mahon sent letters protesting his proposed removal. On August 10, 1861, the Lighthouse Board re­ceived a letter in which Thomas Mc Mahon refused to vacate the premises. The fight continued into April of 1862 when Mc Ma­ hon finally vacated the premises. On May 7th, Mr. Thomas Russell took over as the new custodian. 

During this period the town of Taylorsport, just like Port Clinton, was in serious decline as was the pier and harbor. Taylorsport merged into Glencoe in the early 1860s and the town of Glencoe was incorporated in 1869.

Various people wanted to buy the former lighthouse and its two-acre property during the 1860s and early 1870s. In July of 1873, the Lighthouse Board received a letter from Anson Taylor asking that the dwelling and land be returned to him through a quit-claim deed to the property at no cost. The Lighthouse Board refused this arraignment. Anson tried again on August 4, 1873, when he sent a letter to the 11th District Engineer stating that the Taylorsport property should be sold directly back to him without an auction. He stated that the land was worth little and the former lighthouse building was so close to the edge of the bluff that it may fall into the lake. This request was again rejected.

The sale was an auction on August 6, 1873, the same day as that for Port Clinton. The former lighthouse and 2 acres of property at Taylorsport was sold at the auction for $1700 to Augustin D. Taylor (Anson's brother). The Lighthouse Board sent the deed and title to the property to Mr. Taylor in September of 1873. The lighthouse was still in existence in 1900 and was demolished soon after.

Strange, but true, the lighthouses at Port Clinton and Taylorsport lasted only three years and were never of importance to the shipping traffic of the area. The railroad completely overshadowed the need for harbor lights at these locations.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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