A lighthouse commenced operation on the northern tip of Grand Island in 1856, but mariners needed additional navigational aids to help them reach the safe anchorages at the southern end of the island. During the summer of 1868, a wooden lighthouse, consisting of a square tower attached to the gable end of a one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling, was built atop a stone foundation on the Thumb.
George Prior was promoted to head keeper and served in that capacity until 1893, when he was transferred to Grand Island Harbor Lighthouse. George and Theresa Prior had three children when they moved to Grand Island, and another two were born on the island. During storms, the Priors so feared that the lighthouse might pitch over into the lake that the whole family would stay dressed and awake all night in case they had to flee inland. Known for helping any vessel in distress, Keeper Prior once saved the lives of nine people from a boat that foundered in a terrible storm.
In 1905, the Lighthouse Board announced that Grand Island Harbor Light no longer served the purpose for which it was originally built. Grand Island Harbor Lighthouse was lit for the last time on the night of October 29, 1908, and Keeper transfered to the station.
Over the years, shares in the lighthouse were combined and exchanged hands, but little was done to preserve the structure.
In the 1990s, The Munising News wrote, “It is anyone’s guess what will bring the East Channel Lighthouse down first, the rotting timbers or the lake’s erosion. Both problems need to be addressed very soon, or there may not be a building to save.”
Finally, in 1999, the Alger County Historical Society formed the East Channel Lighthouse Rescue Committee to try to save the building from neglect and erosion. Thanks to a generous and devoted community, East Channel Lighthouse now stands ready to face the 21st century.