GLSHS Museum & Exhibits – Soo Locks Park
Historic U.S. Weather Bureau Building
Soo Locks Park, Sault Ste. Marie
400 W. Portage Avenue
Sault Ste Marie, MI 49783
Open to the public weekdays during the summer months
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society’s administrative offices are located in the historic 1899 U.S. Weather Bureau Building, just 200 feet from the MacArthur Lock. with a U.S. Beside housing administrative offices of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, the Weather Bureau Building also offers public exhibits, a Shipwreck Coast Museum Store sales area, and paper archives of the Shipwreck Society.
Exhibit: History of the U.S. Weather Service – Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast – Whitefish Point
Through grants from Michigan Council for the Humanities and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Clean Michigan Initiative Program, an exhibit was opened to the public during the summer of 2009 on the first floor of the building. This exhibit traces the origins of the U.S. Weather Bureau from the Signal Service onward, encouraged by officials trying to reduce the number of lives lost to shipwreck on the Great Lakes. The exhibit discusses the role of Sault Ste. Marie and the St. Marys River as vessels follow it up Whitefish Bay, to face the dreaded “Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast” as they pass Whitefish Point. Artifacts, both authentic and replica, professionally designed interpretive panels, a full-size U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diver mannequin, and a Blu-Ray video presentation thrill visitors of all ages – and admission is free.
The Weather Bureau Building was constructed in 1899 by the USDA to serve as the central forecasting office in this region. Its primary function was to physically deliver to and receive weather reports from vessels in the Soo Locks, allowing forecasters to hand-carry weather forecasts to upbound and downbound vessels. A forecaster and his family lived in the building. As radio developed, the U.S. Weather Bureau decided to move its office to the Sault Ste. Marie airport, abandoning the building in 1939. Owned now by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who own and operate the Soo Locks and Locks Park, the building was unused 1939-1948, when the American Merchant Marine Library Association took it over.
The Marine Library used the building as a library for sailors, providing them with renewed reading material as their vessels passed through the locks. But by 2004, the Marine Library’s function had been largely replaced by electronic means of shipboard entertainment.
Shipwreck Society Occupancy, 2005
The Shipwreck Society was approached by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2004 as this governmental organization had no budget whatsoever to restore nor preserve this historic structure. A lease arrangement was created and signed in March of 2005 with the Society.
At that time, the building was in deplorable shape, having suffered greatly through the effects of water incursion and the weight of library books. The Shipwreck Society invested a significant amount of its own funding in the building, commencing interior adaptive restoration work in early 2007. Restoration has been aided by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Michigan Initiative Program – and a grant from the National Park Service’s Save Americas Treasures Program. This 2008 award was the only Save Americas Treasures Grant awarded to any organization in Michigan during that year. All restoration work is overseen by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.
The U.S. Weather Bureau constructed 47 buildings between 1890-1913, 29 were of this identical design. Only about five remain standing in the United States today with their historic integrity intact.