Lighthouses

Huron Island Lighthouse

Location: Michigan
Date Built: 1868
Lodging: No
Height(Approximate): 197 Feet (60 Meters)
Active: Yes
Open For Tours: No

Lake Superior is known for its maritime hazards. The lake is littered with small, rocky islands, and is plagued by thick fog. Many vessels crash into other boats or get destroyed by rocky coasts, dangerous reefs, or shoals. Huron Island Lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses to light up this body of water in order to help ships and other vessels pass safely, as it warns passing vessels of the incoming coast or lights up other hazards in water with visibility so bad that sailors often cannot see right in front of them. The terrain is unpredictable, as it is full of gentle beaches as well as rough, spiky granite. So many ships have wrecked in these waters that the area is a popular site for divers wanting to take a look at what treasures they may find in the depts.

Due to the boom of copper mining in the middle of the nineteenth century, these waters saw a huge increase in passing ships, meaning there would be greater chances of these ships running into each other. Three miles from Huron Point and the Huron Mountains lies the Huron Island Lighthouse sits the Huron Island Lighthouse. Before the light was built, entire large ships would be torn apart by Huron Island’s rough terrain because they were unable to even see it. After the crash of the S. S. Arctic in 1860, which completely destroyed the ship and forced its passengers and cattle onboard to evacuate (this is why the island is sometimes called “Cattle Island”), Congress commissioned a budget of $17,000 for the construction of a lighthouse on the island, with two fog signals being added a bit after construction—the area had been growing restless after far too many ships had crashed at the location, and this crash was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They used quarried rock from Huron Island to construct the 1.5 story lighthouse in 1868, standing 39 feet tall. The lighthouse was meant to service those travelling to and between Marquette, Pequaming, L’Anse, Baraga, Houghton, and Hancock.

The result was the Great Lakes’ second highest lighthouse focal plane, the first being Grand Island North Light at 205 feet. A boat dock and oilhouse along with other structures were built to accompany the lighthouse. The Huron Island Lighthouse helped light the waters for the first time on October 20th, 1868. A twin lighthouse, the Granite Island Lighthouse, was constructed from the same plans and sits on the nearby Granite Island. One of the most popular diving spots is at the site of the George Nestor crash, which occurred on April 30, 1909. The 207 foot long ship was stranded near the island, resulting in seven deaths. Divers can go down more than 100 feet to check out the wreckage. There are many other spots that divers like to check out along with the George Nestor.

The lighthouse’s steam whistles were eventually switched to diaphones, powerful fog horns that can help alert passing vessels as to their location by traveling long distances. Summers were familiar with these horns and whistles, as the foggiest season came during the spring or summer. Fog could be especially tricky, as it usually appeared on otherwise sunny days, meaning that many people in vessels may find themselves unprepared, not expecting any fog.

The lighthouse suffered from many attacks from lightning strikes, resulting in two reconstructions within five years from each other—one in 1887 and another in 1891, but the whole structure was once again electrified in 1930. One of the first of these lightning strikes tore a piece out from the cornice, requiring repairs of the lighthouse walls. The 1887 strike resulted in renovations and many improvements, including an extended tramway and a derrick.

A significant upgrade was made in 1912 with the switch to incandescent oil vapor. Barracks were built in 1961 to begin holding boarders in 1972, the same year that the lighthouse became automated.

The light is still illuminating the waters, officially owned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, to help direct maritime traffic today. The Island and lighthouse has been kept open to visitors during the daytime, but this can only be reached through a tour boat or a private vessel. One would want to find a skilled captain, though, as the waters pose the same hazards that troubled the sailors over a century ago. The Huron Island Lighthouse Preservation Association, part of the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance, has been working to preserve the light from their close location in L’Anse, Michigan.

 

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