Old Mackinac Point Light

National Register of Historic Places listings in Michigan Mackinac Island State Park Commission Mackinac Bridge
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Old Mackinac Point Light
Old Mackinac Point Light is located in Michigan
Old Mackinac Point Light
LocationMackinaw City, Michigan
Coordinates45°47′15″N 84°43′46″W / 45.78750°N 84.72944°W / 45.78750; -84.72944Coordinates: 45°47′15″N 84°43′46″W / 45.78750°N 84.72944°W / 45.78750; -84.72944
Year first constructed1892
Year first lit1892
FoundationAshlar limestone[1]
ConstructionCream City brick
Tower shapeCylindrical "castle" with attached dwelling[2]
Markings / patternNatural with black lantern
Tower height50 feet (15 m)[2][3]
Focal height62 feet (19 m)[4]
Original lensFourth order Fresnel lens
Range14 nautical miles; 26 kilometres (16 mi)[5]
ARLHS numberUSA-463[6][7]
Heritageplace listed on the National Register of Historic Places Edit this on Wikidata
Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Vintage image of the station
U.S. Coast Guard photo
LocationMichilimackinac State Park, Mackinaw City, Michigan
Area0.9 acres (3,600 m2)
NRHP reference No.69000068[8]
Added to NRHPOctober 1, 1969

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.[9]



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.[10]

In the early 19th century, with large vessel traffic increasing from Lake Huron into the Straits, the first step in guarding the Straits was taken in 1829, through the construction of Bois Blanc Lighthouse to both guide mariners in making the westerly turn into the Straits, and to warn them of the shoals and shallows surrounding the island.

Three years later in 1832, Congress acted on Stephen Pleasonton’s recommendation that a lightship be placed on Waugoshance Shoal as the first attempt to mark the western entrance to the Straits. In 1838, Lieutenant James T. Homans reported that the lightship was wholly inadequate. He recommended a better solution for Waugoshance and also that a light be built on the point to the west of Mackinaw Harbor. Nothing came of Homans' recommendations. In 1854, the new Lighthouse Administration decided (against the recommendation of local residents) to put a light at McGulpin Point, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) to the west of Old Point Mackinaw.


In 1889, the United States Lighthouse Board realized that Mackinaw Point was a better location. Their first inclination was to put a fog signal there, but when asking Congress for funding, they requested funding for both a fog signal and a first class lighthouse. Congress chose to accept their recommendation, but only voted the funding for a steam-powered fog-signal. The fog signal was built in 1890.[11] The signal proved to be exceptionally necessary for navigation in the often fog-choked Straits of Mackinac; during one exceptionally humid fortnight, the Old Mackinac Point signal personnel reported burning 52 cords of stove wood in order to keep steam up for the foghorn.[12]

The lighthouse "grew out of the fog station."[2][13] In March 1891, Congress finally authorized the funding for a light station and the board acted quickly. Bidding was difficult, but in 1892, "on a foundation of ashlar limestone, the tower and attached keeper’s dwelling were both constructed of Cream City brick, trimmed with Indiana Limestone. The double-walled cylindrical tower was laid with an outside diameter of 13 feet 4 inches (4.06 m), and as each course was added, rose to a height of 45 feet (14 m), surmounted by a circular iron gallery and an 8-foot-8-inch (2.64 m) diameter watch room, which was in turn capped by a prefabricated octagonal iron lantern."[14] The lens is a fourth order Fresnel Lens.

Its light was visible for 14 nautical miles; 26 kilometres (16 mi), which made it "particularly valuable" to the railroad car ferries SS Chief Wawatam and SS Sainte Marie operated between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.[5]

Deactivation and preservation

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.

The light as seen at night

In 1960, the lighthouse property was purchased by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, incorporating it into surrounding Fort Michilimackinac State Park. The Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 1969, as Reference #69000068 (listed as: Mackinac Point Lighthouse).[13]

It is also a registered Michigan Historic Landmark. The Michigan Historical Marker on site states:

A state historical marker was erected in 1972. It is Registered Site S0377. The marker states:

"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 sixteen miles away. In operation until 1958, the lighthouse is now a maritime museum."[15]

In 2000, serious restoration was undertaken, with the intent of restoring it to its appearance around 1910. The lighthouse is reopened to the public, and the castle-style structure, which design is unique in the Great Lakes was restored.[16] the first floor is fully accessible, and includes period furnishings and accoutrement, plus hands-on exhibits that test one's 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.[5]

Starting in 2018, major exterior and interior masonry restoration was undertaken by National Restoration Inc.

Current status and getting there

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, June 2019
Sign summarizing the history of the lighthouse

Adjacent to the Mackinac Bridge, the park offers a good view of the bridge and boat traffic.[5]

Admission is through the 1907 Fog Signal Building, which houses the museum store. An admission fee is charged. Pets are welcome.

The tower is open to the public.[17]

The lighthouse is located within Michilimackinac State Park, just a few hundred feet east of the Mackinac Bridge and the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitors Center. At this time the light is a museum run by Mackinac Parks Commission.

Because of its prime location and exposure to tourists, plus its unique picturesque form and color, it is the subject of photographs,[18] drawings, and needlepoint illustrations. Historical photographs are a prominent feature of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission website.[19]

An exciting and expensive alternative is to charter a seaplane to make a tour of the Mackinac Straits and environs.[20]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Brisson, Steven (2001) Brief history, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Mackinac Parks, Mackinac Island State Park Commission.
  2. ^ a b c Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, Old Mackinac Point Light.
  3. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Tower Heights". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com. Archived from the original on 2000-09-18. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  4. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Focal Heights". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com. Archived from the original on 2008-08-30. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  5. ^ a b c d Wobser, David. "Old Mackinac Point". Boatnerd.com.
  6. ^ Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society Old Mackinac Point (Straits of Mackinac) Light, ARLHS USA-463.
  7. ^ Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society, World List of Lights (WLOL).
  8. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  9. ^ Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, official website.
  10. ^ Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. How Stuff Works.
  11. ^ Lighthouse Central, Old Mackinac Point light The Ultimate Guide to East Michigan Lighthouses by Jerry Roach (Publisher: Bugs Publishing LLC - July 2006). ISBN 0-9747977-1-5; ISBN 978-0-9747977-1-7.
  12. ^ Roberts, Bruce; Jones, Ray. (September 2002) American Lighthouses, 2nd: A Definitive Guide p. 250 Publisher: Globe Pequot Press 304 pp ISBN 1-59223-102-0; ISBN 978-1-59223-102-7; ISBN 978-0-7627-2269-3.
  13. ^ a b c National Park Service Maritime History Project, Inventory of Historic Lights, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
  14. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Old Mackinac Point Light". Seeing The Light. terrypepper.com.
  15. ^ "Michigan Historical Markers, Old Mackinac Point Light". Archived from the original on 2014-07-17. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  16. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Michigan's Eastern Lower Peninsula". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  17. ^ Old Mackinac Point Light, Detroit News.
  18. ^ Light house friends, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
  19. ^ Historical photographs of Old Mackinac Point Light.
  20. ^ Stoke, Keith, A seaplane tour of the Straits.
  21. ^ Old Mackinac Point Light Press Release. Archived 2008-03-04 at the Wayback Machine