Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Michigan

Lighthouses Of The Great Lakes

Published in the August 2017 Issue October 2018 Feature

Mackinaw Point marks the junction of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Founded in 1889, the Old Mackinac Point Light Station was in operation from 1890 until 1957. Even before the advent of European explorers, the Straits of Mackinac were a significant hazard to water borne travelers. Consequently, before lighthouses, the Ojibwa lit the shore with fires.

This lighthouse is opposite the turning point for ships making the difficult passage through the Straits of Mackinac, one of the busiest crossroads of the Great Lakes. McGulpin Point Light, two miles to the west, had been established in 1856, but it was not visible from all directions. In 1889 Congress appropriated funds for the construction of a steam-powered fog signal here, which went into operation on November 5, 1890. Construction of the light tower and attached lightkeepers’ dwelling began, and the light was first displayed on October 25, 1892. Heavy iron and brass castings were used throughout the structure, and the light was visible to ships 16 miles away. In operation until 1958, the lighthouse is now a maritime museum.

The completion of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 eliminated the need for the light. Since the Mackinac Bridge has lights on it at night, the bridge became a much better aid to navigation than the light.

In 2000, serious restoration was undertaken, with the intent of restoring it to its appearance from 1910. The lighthouse is reopened to the public, and the castle-style structure, whose design is unique in the Great Lakes, was restored. The first floor is fully accessible and includes period furnishings and accoutrements, plus hands-on exhibits where visitors can test their nighttime navigation skills, light a miniature Fresnel lens, and put on lighthouse keeper clothing. Historic interpreters lead tours up the tower and into the lantern room.

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