The three lighthouses pictured above are on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. All are now maintained and operated for visitation by the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association. On the left is LITTLE SABLE POINT Lighthouse, the one pictured in the sunset shot above. Only the brick tower itself remains from the days when this was a complete “light station”, with a Keeper’s residence and other support structures. It is located within Silver Lake State Park, just south of Ludington MI.
The center picture is of BIG SABLE POINT Lighthouse. It is the same size as Little Sable. They are named not for their size, but for the geographic points on which they are located. Also made of brick, this lighthouse was covered with iron plates when the brick began to deteriorate. It is located in Ludington State Park. The lighthouse on the right is the LUDINGTON PIER Lighthouse, in the harbor of Ludington. Much more exposed to the violent waves of Lake Michigan storms, this lighthouse is wedge-shaped on the side facing the lake. All three of these are owned and operated by the “Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Assoc.”
MOST LIGHTHOUSES – As is also noted elsewhere, the state that had, and still has, the greatest number of lighthouses is – MICHIGAN ! Think about it. Michigan is two peninsulas, surrounded by the waters of three of the Great Lakes, lakes that were and are heavily used by commercial ships. New York is number two by the way.
These three photos above are of the AU SABLE POINT lighthouse, on the south shore of Lake Superior. It is in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a unit of the National Park Service. The shot on the left shows a good overview of the entire “light station,” the name for not only the lighthouse tower, but the keepers’residences, oil storage houses, privies, sheds, boathouse, fog signal buildings and any other associated structures that supported the light.
The center photo shows a view of the lighthouse from the Lake Superior beach down below. Since Lake Superior is fresh water, you won’t find many “seashells”, but you will find a neverending rainbow of stones of all sizes and hues that have been polished and tossed ashore by the waves. The photo on the right is a closer-up view of the “new” (1909) residence built for the head keeper. Summer volunteers live on the second floor; the museum/gift-shop is on the lower floor. Although the tower still retains its classic 3rd Order Fresnel lens, it sadly is no longer illuminated. A solar powered modern optic, mounted on the gallery rail, provides a light to mariners on the lake. Check out the park website at: “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore”
Late summer of 2012 found Jack and Tobi back on the shores of Lake Superior on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) at the ONTONAGON lighthouse. This “cream” brick lighthouse, built as an extension of the matching brick keeper’s residence, first went into service in 1867 at the point where the Ontonagon River flows into the lake, replacing an earlier structure. Ships sought the Ontonagon harbor to transport the tons of copper ore, and millions of board feet of white pine and hemlock timber that was brought down the river for decades. The lighthouse is now owned and operated by the Ontonagon County Historical Society. Sadly the Fresnel lens from this tower was removed many years ago, but fortunately has been saved and can be seen at the Society’s museum in Ontonagon, from where tours of the light can be arranged, and from where visitors are transported the few miles to the lighthouse in a little red bus, driven by the “Keeper.” This light was deactivated in the 1960s, and last occupied regularly in the 1970s. Today the keeper’s house has been made into a nice circa-1916 museum. This was the year electricity was first installed in the house. Jack and Tobi were the first to again live in the house in over thirty years, and the Society is considering plans to make it available to other volunteers and/or lighthouse tourists. Other original structures from the “station” that remain are the 1867 brick privy, and the 1901 oil house. Visit https://ontonagonmuseum.org
2014 found Jack and Tobi at yet another of our nation’s fantastic maritime treasures, and back on Lake Michigan too, or I should say “in” Lake Michigan. This was the NINTH year in which we have spent some part of the summer as lighthouse keepers /tourguides. We spent the month of July at SOUTH MANITOU ISLAND LIGHT STATION. As the name implies, this one too is on an island, but that island is sixteen miles off the mainland west of Leland, Michigan. It is a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a unit of the National Park Service. Visitor access is by private boat (limited moorings)or via the daily commercial ferry from Leland. There are four backpack campgrounds on the island. A few pics follow. The park service provided us with a nice little house to stay in. Although the original Fresnel lens has been lost, a fantastic replica is now in the lantern room and focuses its light nightly out over the Manitou Passage. Visit https:/www.nps.gov/slbe
The photos above show an overview of the station, including the building that once housed the fog signals, the round metal and more typical brick “oil houses” and the keeper’s residence, built in 1858. [The station’s second light tower sat on the roof of the house; the current lighthouse, the third one here, dates from 1871.] The second photo is a close up of the top of the tower, and the third looks up into the illuminated Fresnel lens. The lower row shows the house we lived in, part of the former U.S. Lifesaving Station there, and a shot of “keeper and wife” in the tower doorway.
Our destination for June of 2016 was the NEW PRESQUE ISLE lighthouse, at the town of the same name, on the shores of Lake Huron. Yes, as the name suggests, there is an OLD PRESQUE ISLE lighthouse too. The two of them are quite close together. The “New” tower, another of the double-wall tapered brick towers, is almost identical in design to the ones at South Manitou, Au Sable, and Big and Little Sable points, all pictured above. The original “Old” lighthouse on the Presque Isle Point went into service in 1840, but over time it was determined it was not tall enough nor postioned properly for maximum usefulness to the mariners, and so the “new” tower was built. This much taller one went into service in 1871. The pictures above are of the “old” tower (on left) and the “new” tower (on right). Both lighthouses are owned and operated by Presque Isle Township and its Museum Association.
The photo below shows the two keepers’ houses. The original one is attached to the tower. It housed both a keeper and an assistant, and their families, until the “new” residence on the right was built in 1905. Although intended for the “Assistant”, the head keeper generally claimed the “newer” house for himself. The “new” house is furnished circa 1920. The original house has several exhibits, including the Third Order Fresnel lens that was in the tower lantern room for many years, and also has a small gift shop.
The photo below shows the Third Order “Fixed” lens that was in the lantern room for many years. This lens, removed from the lantern several years ago, is now on display in the old keeper’s house. Sadly, no light shines from this tower today. For more information visit: https://presqueislelighthouses.org
Another summer, and yet another lighthouse in MICHIGAN ! Who would have thought only a few years ago that we would ever become so familiar with the shores of the Great Lakes state, the home of the most lighthouses in the U.S.A. TAWAS POINT LIGHTHOUSE on the Lake Huron side of Michigan became our EIGHTH Michigan lighthouse. Owned and operated by the state of Michigan, it is within Tawas State Park.
The photo above shows the brick tower, the connected keeper’s residence, and the Oil House to the very right. These are the only station components that remain. The lower floor of the house is furnished as in several earlier periods; the second floor has been nicely renovated as housing for volunteer “keepers.”
A second house for an assistant keeper was once on the site, and a “Whistle House” that first housed a steam engine to sound a fog warning was not far off. The steam system was replaced later by air compressors. The left photo below shows the house with the chimney and steam whistles on the roof. The second shows the “horns” that replaced the whistle when compressed air replaced the steam system. The left photo also shows some of the “Tramway” and the cart that was used to deliver coal for the steam boilers. This was no longer needed when the air system was installed; thus the tracks are not shown in the photo on the right.
The first lighthouse here was built about a quarter mile away, but unlike many lighthouse sites where erosion is a problem, land continued to build or “accrete” around this first tower, and it soon found itself some distance from the shore. The present, second tower was constructed in 1876, and was actually built on a “Crib” that was in the water. Land continued to accrete, and today “Tawas Point” stretches out about a half a mile beyond the lighthouse itself. The photo below, circa 1877, shows the crib with the lighthouse and keeper’s residence.
Tawas still has a Fourth Order Fresnel lens in the tower. It has one fixed red panel that indicated dangerous shallow waters to ships approaching from the SE. The present lens, made by the French Firm of Barbier and Fenestre was installed sometime after 1910, replacing a similar lens that is now on display at the Crisp Point Lighthouse on Lake Superior. The photo below shows the lower part of the present Fresnel lens with the Barbier & Fenestre name mark. Visit https://www.michigan.gov/tawaslighthouse.
2020 Sadly the summer of 2020 found Jack and Tobi at home in Pennsylvania, the first year since 2006 (When we went touring Irish lighthouses instead) that they had not been volunteers in some capacity at a lighthouse somewhere in the world. The Covid-19 pandemic shut down many tourist attractions – lighthouses among them. We are hoping to get back to this always fascinating, always educational pasttime in the upcoming summer of 2021. Hope to see YOU at a lighthouse somewhere.
We did take a brief tour back in March of 2020 to at least get a taste of lighthouses. We started with a visit to the still new NATIONAL LIGHTHOUSE MUSEUM on Staten Island, in New York City. This was the sight of the old Lighthouse Service’s main depot, from which many lighthouse supplies and materials were shipped, and where many tools, including lamps and lenses were constructed and/or repaired. Visit National Lighthouse Museum.
From there we visited the nearby “Twin Lights” at Navesink and the Sandy Hook lighthouse too. From there we went all the way down the coast of New Jersey, visiting tall towers at Barnegat, Absecon, and Cape May, and the smaller ones inbetween. We crossed over to Delaware on the Cape-May to Lewes ferry and continued on south all the way to the Assategue lighthouse on the eastern shore of Virginia. A grand trip that we recommend highly.