In the mid-19th century most travel was by sailing vessel. There were few or no roads, and only a few steamships were operating on the Great Lakes. Navigation was still primitive by today’s standards. Vessels followed the coastline of the lakes until there was a need to cross a large body of water, and then a compass and sextant were the major navigation tools.
Any vessel sailing up the Lake Huron coast stood a good chance of running aground on the reef extending out from Pointe aux Barques. “Pointe aux Barques” means “Point of Little Boats,” a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan's Thumb. The reef is only covered by some two feet of water and sticks out nearly two miles into Lake Huron.
In 1847 President James K. Polk appropriated $5,000 to build the original Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse that was first lit for the 1848 shipping season. It marked the turning point of Lake Huron into Saginaw Bay and warned of shallow waters. In 1857, the lighthouse and dwelling were replaced with the present 89-foot tower and attached house. In 1875, a Class A lifesaving station was constructed 300 yards south of the lighthouse. It was the first lifesaving station opened on the Great Lakes.
The light is still an active aid to navigation today and is maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, making Pointe aux Barques one of the oldest continuously operating Lights on the Great Lakes and among the ten oldest lighthouses in Michigan.
The Pointe aux Barques keeper's house and tower have been completely restored and contain historical artifacts from a bygone era. The museum is open to the public free of charge and donations are kindly appreciated to help fund the Society's projects. (www.pointeauxbarqueslighthouse.org)