Keeper Elmer Byrnes

Elmer C. Byrnes, New Presque Isle Lighthouse Keeper 1935 -1953

Elmer Byrnes, Keeper at the New Light from 1935 -1953 for 18 years, was a respected member of the Presque Isle community. He was also a colorful figure. A prohibition era photograph in our archives shows the Keeper on his boat, ready to patrol the Huron coastline. As a federal officer, he is armed with a pistol, apparently as protection against bootleggers. Life at Presque Isle could be exciting from time to time!

Elmer is also typical of lighthouse keepers throughout the country and across the years — men and women who maintained their aids to navigation by day and night, in fair weather and foul, in sickness and in health, often living in isolation, and sometimes doing their duty at the risk of their lives. By their dedicated service they protected the people who made their living or traveled on the seacoasts, lakes, and rivers of the United States. Their memory burns as brightly as the lights they tended.

Elmer C. Byrnes was born July 26, 1887, the son of Patrick and Julie Smith Byrnes. The family of six (Elmer had two sisters and a brother) lived at Copper Harbor, then, as now, a small village at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts out into Lake Superior on Michiganʼs Upper Peninsula. Copper Harbor was, and still is, one of Michiganʼs most isolated communities. Even today, only a handful of people remain in town during the winter.

In 1914 Elmer married Jule Georgiana Calverly, an Irish schoolteacher from Calumet, Michigan, another Keweenaw village. A few days after their wedding the couple moved to Point Iroquois Light Station at Brimley, a few miles west of Sault Ste. Marie. Elmer served as First Assistant Keeper until 1917, when at age 30 he was promoted to principal Keeper. During the time, Elmer was stationed at Point Iroquois, Elmer and Jule had four children, Betty, Robert, Nan and Junior.

Elmer was transferred to the Presque Isle light station to serve as Keeper on February 3, 1935. Elmer served for 18 years and retired in 1953.

Elmer's wife, Jule, died on January 24, 1936 at the age of 48 from a series of strokes. After Jule's death, Elmer married Flora LaChance.

Elmer died September 4,1956 at the age of 69.

See additional photos in the Keeper Elmer Byrnes photo album.

Artist Craig Yanek

Craig Yanek lives in Milwaukee, WI and is employed by the Milwaukee Public Museum. Mr. Yanek was commissioned by the Presque Isle Township Museum Society to create the “figure” of Elmer Byrnes. Mr. Yanek has a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was hired by the Museum in 1980 as a field scientific aide to gather insects for their collection. He transferred to the Exhibition Department the following year. He credits a Museum coworker with teaching him the skills necessary to create these “figures.”

Additional Information

Krzywiecki, Sharon, and Tom Sobek. "Lighthouse Keeper Elmer Brynes Returns to Presque Isle." Presque Isle Electric and Gas- Michigan County Lines, July/August 2006, p. 25.

Byrnes Bacon, Betty. "Second Lighthpuse of My Life." U.S. Lighthouse Society" The Keeper's Log.  Summer 1990, pp. 14-29.

Information on Robert Byrnes (Elmer and Jule Byrnes' son)

Information on Robert Byrnes (Elmer and Jule Byrnes' son)

Artist Craig Yanek working on the Elmer Byrnes figure he created.


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