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Whitefish Point Lighthouse

Whitefish Point Lighthouse

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The Whitefish Point Light is a lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

 in the Upper Peninsula
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the northern of the two major land masses that make up the U.S. state of Michigan. It is commonly referred to as the Upper Peninsula, the U.P., or Upper Michigan. It is also known as the land "above the Bridge" linking the two peninsulas. The peninsula is bounded...

 of Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....



Construction on the first light began in 1847, and the lighthouse was said to resemble that at Old Presque Isle Light.

First lit in 1849, it was one of the first lighthouses on the shores of Lake Superior
Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the largest of the five traditionally-demarcated Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded to the north by the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Minnesota, and to the south by the U.S. states of Wisconsin and Michigan. It is the largest freshwater lake in the...

 and is also the oldest active light on the lake. The original structure was outfitted with Lewis lamp
Lewis lamp
The Lewis lamp is a type of light fixture used in lighthouses. It was invented by Winslow Lewis who patented the design in 1810. The primary marketing point of the Lewis lamp was that it used less than half the oil of the prior oil lamps which they replaced...

s, which were thereafter upgraded to a Fourth Order Fresnel lens
Fresnel lens
A Fresnel lens is a type of lens originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses.The design allows the construction of lenses of large aperture and short focal length without the mass and volume of material that would be required by a lens of conventional design...


The current structure, while modern looking, is a Civil War relic. Built in 1861, the iron skeletal steel framework was designed to relieve stress caused by high winds. A similar design is used at Manitou Island light
Manitou Island (Lake Superior)
Manitou Island is a small island in Lake Superior, off the northeastern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the U.S. state of Michigan. Located approximately three miles from the mainland, it encompasses around . Manitou has seen limited impact from human activity, due to its remote location and the...

 in Lake Superior. It was equipped with a Third Order Fresnel lens
Fresnel lens
A Fresnel lens is a type of lens originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses.The design allows the construction of lenses of large aperture and short focal length without the mass and volume of material that would be required by a lens of conventional design...


In 1968, the light was replaced with a DCB-224
The model DCB-224 is a high-power spotlight designed and built by Carlisle & Finch. Originally intended for use use as an aero beacon, it was also widely used in marine lighthouses....

 aero beacon manufactured by the Carlisle & Finch
Carlisle & Finch
Carlisle & Finch is a producer of nautical equipment and searchlights, and the inventor of the electric toy train. It is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.-History :...

 Company. According to Volume 7 of the U.S. Coast Guard light list, it is visible for a distance of 26 nautical miles (48.2 km) in clear weather conditions, and has two unevenly spaced eclipses, and two flashes within every 20 second period. Putting aside questions of nostalgia, aesthetics, or appreciation for the engineering of a bygone era (as exemplified by the Fresnel lens), this iteration of lighthouse illumination is itself incredibly effective, and an endangered remnant of another bygone era.

The station was automated in 1971.

The lighthouse is home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located at the Whitefish Point Light Station north of Paradise in Chippewa County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The light station property was transferred to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society , the Michigan Audubon Society , and the United States...

, which has many shipwreck artifacts, including artifacts from shipwrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve
Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve
The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve was established in 1987 to protect and conserve shipwrecks and historical resources on of Lake Superior bottomlands in Whitefish Bay and around Whitefish Point, Michigan. The formation of the Michigan Underwater Preserves helped stop controversy over...

 and the SS Edmund Fitzgerald's
SS Edmund Fitzgerald
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that made headlines after sinking in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on June 8, 1958, she was the largest boat on North America's Great Lakes, and she remains...

 bell which was recovered from the wreck in 1995. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is open for during the tourist season from 10 am to 6 pm, every day through October 31. The organization that operates the museum got 73.09% of its funding from the public in the year 2007.

The light is considered to iconic, and has been the subject of memorabilia. An official Michigan Historical Marker was erected in 1974. It is Registered Site L0272. The marker notes:
  • This light, the oldest on Lake Superior
    Lake Superior
    Lake Superior is the largest of the five traditionally-demarcated Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded to the north by the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Minnesota, and to the south by the U.S. states of Wisconsin and Michigan. It is the largest freshwater lake in the...

    , began operating in 1849, though the present tower was constructed later. An early stopping place for Indians, Voyageurs
    The Voyageurs were the persons who engaged in the transportation of furs by canoe during the fur trade era. Voyageur is a French word which literally translates to "traveler"...

    , Coureur des bois
    Coureur des bois
    A coureur des bois or coureur de bois was an independent entrepreneurial French-Canadian woodsman who traveled in New France and the interior of North America. They travelled in the woods to trade various things for fur....

     and Jesuit missionaries, the point marks the course change for ore boats and other ships navigating this treacherous coastline to and from St. Mary's Canal
    Soo Locks
    The Soo Locks are a set of parallel locks which enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. They are located on the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, between the Upper Peninsula of the US state of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario...

    . Since 1971 the light, fog signal, and radio beacon have been automated and controlled from Sault Ste. Marie
    Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
    Sault Ste. Marie is a city in and the county seat of Chippewa County in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is in the north-eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the Canadian border, separated from its twin city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, by the St. Marys River...


The keepers were:
1848-1851: James B. Van Renselaer
1851-1853: Amos Stiles
1853-1856: William C. Crampton
1856-1859: Belloni McGulpin
1859-1861: Charles Garland
1861-1864: Joseph Kemp
1864-1868: Thomas Stafford
1868-1874: Edward Ashman
1874-1882: Charles J. Linke
1882-1883: Edward Chambers
1883-1903: Charles Kimball
1903-1931: Robert Carlson

Whitefish Point is on the Lake Superior coastline known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes”. The numerous shipwrecks of Whitefish Bay
Whitefish Bay
Whitefish Bay is a large bay on the eastern end of the southern shore of Lake Superior between Michigan and Ontario. It begins in the north and west at Whitefish Point in Michigan, about 10 miles north of Paradise, Michigan and ends at the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie on the southeast...

—including those of the Comet, John B. Cowle
SS John B. Cowle (1902)
The SS John B. Cowle was one of the early Great Lakes bulk freighters known as "tin pans". She was the first of two ships named for prominent Cleveland, Ohio citizen and shipbuilder, John Beswick Cowle. On her maiden voyage in 1909, the Isaac M. Scott rammed the Cowle in heavy fog off Whitefish...

, Drake
SS M.M. Drake (1882)
The SS M.M. Drake was a wooden steam barge that towed consorts loaded with coal and iron ore on the Great Lakes. She came to the rescue of the crews of at least 4 foundering vessels in her 9 year career only to meet the same fate in her final rescue attempt. The Drake sank in 1882 off Vermilion...

, Samuel Mather
SS Samuel Mather (1887)
The SS Samuel Mather was the first of seven U.S. merchant ships to bear that name. The wooden Mather sank in 1891 after she was rammed by the steel freighter Brazil in heavy fog in Whitefish Bay from Point Iroquois, ending the Mather's 4 year career...

, Miztec
Miztec (schooner barge)
The Miztec was built as a 3-masted schooner in 1890. She was later converted to a barge and served as a consort for lumber hookers on the Great Lakes. She escaped destruction in a severe 1919 storm that sank her longtime companion, the SS Myron, only to sink on the traditional day of bad luck,...

, Myron
SS Myron
The SS Myron was a wooden steamship built in 1888. She spent her 31 year career as lumber hooker towing schooner barges on the Great Lakes. She sank in 1919 in a Lake Superior November gale with the loss of all her crewmen but her captain who was found drifting on wreckage near Ile Parisienne. ...

, Niagara, John M. Osborn
John M. Osborn (steamboat)
The John M Osborn’s short career as a wooden steam barge lasted just two years. The Osborn sank with the loss of five lives when she was rammed by the larger, steel hulled Alberta who was called a “steel monster" and "terror of the lakes". The Osborn’s wreck was discovered 100 years after her...

, Sagamore
SS Sagamore (1892)
The SS Sagamore is reported to be the best example of a whaleback barge among Great Lakes shipwrecks. Only 48 whalebacks ever existed on the Great Lakes. She sank in 1901 in the shipping lane near the Soo Locks when she was rammed by the steel steamer Northern Queen in one of Whitefish Bay's...

, , and Vienna
Vienna (steamship)
The SS Vienna was built in 1873 during the era when steamers were built with sail rigging. She had a 19 year career marked with maritime incidents including sinking when she was just 3 years old. She sank for her final time in fair weather in Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior after she received a...

—are protected for future generations of sports divers by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.

The site is a venue for remembrance of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, and extending back to the loss in 1816 of "the very first ship known to sail on Superior, the sixty-foot trading vessel Invincible," which upended in gale force winds and towering waves near there. "[E]very loss was tragic."

There are critics that claim that the stewardship of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society over this lighthouse caused it to be "overdeveloped." Michigan Audubon Society filed a lawsuit that accused the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society of overdeveloping Whitefish Point and United States Fish & Wildlife Service of not protecting the site. The lawsuit was settled in 2002 when the parties agreed to govern the site with a management plan.

Other uses

The Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge is a managed wetland in Schoolcraft County in the U.S. state of Michigan. It has an area of 95,212 acres . It is bordered by M-28 and M-77. The nearest town of any size is Seney, Michigan...

 provides important migratory
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 bird migration habitat for raptors
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

, waterbirds, and songbirds. Whitefish Point is a designated Important Bird Area
Important Bird Area
An Important Bird Area is an area recognized as being globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations. Currently there are about 10,000 IBAs worldwide. The program was developed and sites are identified by BirdLife International...

 . The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory is located in Chippewa County, Michigan, USA, adjacent to the Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. It operates as a non-profit, affiliate education and research facility of the Michigan Audubon Society. The Society and the WPBO together...

 is a research and education facility operated in affiliation with Michigan Audubon, a State Chapter of the National Audubon Society
National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society is an American non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation. Incorporated in 1905, Audubon is one of the oldest of such organizations in the world and uses science, education and grassroots advocacy to advance its conservation mission...

. Whitefish Point is the best place in North America to observe the Saw-whet Owl. Most of Whitefish Point is a wildlife sanctuary, renowned for the variety of birds that pass through. The Michigan Audubon Society maintains a small information room informing birders particular species to observe as they hike along the trails network. A wooden walkway has been constructed to allow the visitor a chance to venture into the sanctuary area and observe wildlife. Whitefish Point is a target for migrating birds, including eagle
Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in...

s, goshawks, geese, falcon
A falcon is any species of raptor in the genus Falco. The genus contains 37 species, widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America....

s, hawks and owls
OWLS is a mnemonic used by general aviation airplane pilots to assess an unprepared surface for a precautionary landing.Like all mnemonics this check has become part of aviation culture and folklore.OWLS:* Obstacles* Wind direction...


The sandy beach along the point is an exciting place to look for banded agates, especially after a storm or to take a walk along the sandy shoreline and enjoy the magic of Lake Superior.

In 2009, for the first time in two decades, a pair of Piping Plover
Piping Plover
The Piping Plover is a small sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel beaches in North America. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the neck...

s nested at Whitefish Point, and successfully fledged three offspring.

From M-123
M-123 (Michigan highway)
M-123 is a state trunkline highway in the eastern Upper Peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is one of only a few highways in Michigan that curve around and form a U-shape. In fact, M-123 has three intersections with only two state trunklines. It meets M-28 twice as a result of its U-shaped...

 in Paradise
Paradise, Michigan
Paradise is an unincorporated community in Whitefish Township, Chippewa County in the U.S. state of Michigan.Paradise is on the northeastern portion of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the western side of Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior, about by road from Sault Ste. Marie and about north of the...

, go north on Whitefish Point Road for just over 11 miles (17.7 km) to Whitefish Point Lighthouse. It is well marked.

See also

  • Lighthouses in the United States
    Lighthouses in the United States
    This is a list of lighthouses in the United States. The United States has had approximately a thousand lights as well as light towers, range lights, and pier head lights...

  • Great Lakes Storm of 1913
    Great Lakes Storm of 1913
    The Great Lakes Storm of 1913, historically referred to as the "Big Blow", "Jeff Kinsland's Wash," the "Freshwater Fury" or the "White Hurricane", was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds that devastated the Great Lakes Basin in the Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario...

     and Shipwrecks of the 1913 Great Lakes storm
    Shipwrecks of the 1913 Great Lakes storm
    This is a list of shipwrecks during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.-References:*Brown, David G. . White Hurricane. International Marine / McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-138037-X.*-External links:***...

Specialized further reading

  • Hermanson, Don, True Lighthouse Hauntings, Revisited including Whitefish Point Light.
  • Lynn, Bruce. "A Light is on in the Graveyard, Whitefish Point." (Aug 1997), pp. 1–3 Lighthouse Digest
    Lighthouse Digest
    Lighthouse Digest is a specialty magazine for lighthouse and maritime history enthusiasts published in East Machias, Maine. Launched in May, 1992, by FogHorn Publishing, it is dedicated to preserving lighthouse history, current and yesteryear, for future generations.-Scope:Coverage includes...


External links