Michigan lighthouses are famous. People travel from hundreds of miles away to visit these historical monuments. With 116 lighthouses total, Michigan takes the title of state with the most lighthouses. They aren’t considered some of the most beautiful lighthouses in the United States. They aren’t haunted (that I know of). They aren’t massive. So what makes Michigan lighthouses so special?
Steve and I decided to take a day trip to Lake Michigan, starting at St. Joseph and working our way up to Grand Haven. We stopped at each lighthouse along the way and got to see a side of them that most people only see in photographs.
St. Joseph Lighthouse
The original St. Joseph Lighthouse was constructed in 1832, making it the second lighthouse to be built on Lake Michigan. It was a single story and made entirely of stone. Although it was replaced by the newer lighthouse in 1859, it wasn’t forgotten and in 1924 the Red Cross took it over and used it as headquarters until 1924.
The lighthouse that is visited today was built at the end of a wooden pier that extends into Lake Michigan. In 1907 and 1919 the city of St. Joseph built the north and south piers for boats to more easily access the mouth of the St. Joe River. It is also quite famous for icing over during Michigan winters. One famous photograph was taken by Michigan Nut Photography. We were disappointed to find it without much ice during our visits.
South Haven Lighthouse
Built in 1872, the original South Haven South Pier lighthouse was constructed of wood and stood thirty feet tall, making it one of Michigan’s shortest lighthouses. Perched on top of it was an octagon cast iron light.
The current lighthouse was built in 1903 and moved farther away from shore several times throughout its history as the piers were expanded. It was designed a shorter replica of the Muskegon South Pier lighthouse.
Why Red? In the 1950’s, the coast guard required that all lighthouses on the right entry side of a pier had to be painted bright red. This requirement no longer exists, but in the spirit of keeping history alive, this lighthouse remains red.
Holland Harbor Lighthouse
The original Holland Lighthouse was a small, square, wooden structure completed in 1872. It was built at the entrance of a channel that connected Lake Michigan with Lake Macatawa and took about two years to build.
The old lighthouse was replaced in 1907 by the current three story, steel lighthouse. Due to it’s size and bright red color, this lighthouse has been nicknamed “Big Red.”
An interesting fact about the Holland Harbor Lighthouse is that in 2007 the United States Department of Interior declared it a protected lighthouse. It is the 12th Michigan Lighthouse to have that status.
Public access to view this lighthouse is very limited because private property has to be crossed to get to it. When we arrived, the private property was blocked off with gates and we weren’t able to approach the lighthouse. I found out later that as of May 27, 2013 access by foot to the lighthouse had been restricted to Tuesday and Thursday from mid-morning to sunset. We were there on a Monday.
Grand Haven Lighthouse
Grand Haven currently has two lighthouses. Both are located on the Grand River where it enters Lake Michigan. The first is called Grand Haven South Pierhead Inner Light and the second is Grand Haven South Pierhead Entrance Light.
The Grand Haven South Pierhead Inner Light. was originally constructed in 1839. It was moved and rebuilt in 1905 and was built from cast iron.
The Grand Haven South Pierhead Entrance Light was originally built in 1875 and moved in 1905. In 1922 it was covered in Iron to better protect it against the hazardous Michigan winds and water.
So then, what makes Michigan lighthouses just so special? Easy. The rich history and the stunning views. They have provided maps, safety and reassurances to sailors for over a hundred years. They are symbol of strength through storms, winters and time.