Sometimes, when I sit on the porch in the summer and look out at the Round Island Lighthouse, which sits on the other side of the Straits of Mackinac, I imagine what it must have been like to be a lighthouse keeper in the days before RADAR.
I am fortunate to wonder, and to be so close to one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the Great Lakes. Even if you are not as close as I am, there are plenty of other familiar lighthouses in our area. Michigan and the other Great Lakes states boast perhaps the greatest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the country.
According to researchers at Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library, the first Michigan lighthouse was the Fort Gratiot Light, first constructed in 1825 near Port Huron. The Fort Gratiot Light, still hosting visitors today, is only one on the long list of lighthouses. By the early part of the 20th century, more than 430 major lighthouses kept boat traffic safe on the lakes, though today many are gone or in disrepair.
The Round Island Lighthouse first lighted the Straits in 1896 at the height of lighthouse use on the lakes. In addition to Fort Gratiot and Round Island, there are plenty of other 19th century lights worth visiting.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, built in Mackinaw City in 1889, once lit the waterways with a Fresnel light but was converted to electric light like so many others over time. Like many other lighthouses, you can still visit the trip to the top can be a challenge. You will have to climb 51 steep stairs, ascending four stories. For many, the view of the Straits from the top is well worth the steps.
From the top of Lake Superior to the bottom of Lake Huron or Lake Michigan, even Lake St. Clair, there are plenty of other historic lights still available to visitors.
In the Upper Peninsula, a trip to Au Sable Point Lighthouse, just west of Grand Marais, is worth the ride. Still used as a navigational aid on the south shore of Lake Superior, Au Sable Point first guided ships in 1874, going electric in 1958.
Are you heading south instead? Look for the Grand Haven Lighthouse, which is two pierhead lights, the first one constructed in 1875, but moved in 1905 and sheathed in iron.
Back on Lake Huron, the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse in Harrisville, a two-story Cape Cod-style, came into service in 1869, with a sixth-order Fresnel lens. Illumination went electric in 1939.
Wherever your adventure along the Great Lakes might take you, making time to visit one of the many historical lighthouses still hosting visitors is a great way to see how history still shapes our area.