Collecting Lighthouses

Milepost 12-16-15         Rockford, Michigan

There is something innately alluring about lighthouses.  Maybe it is the unique architecture and ingenious engineering of these old towers – or the attraction of the seashore lifestyle, but just about everybody loves them.  Some folks love them so much that they “collect” lighthouses.  That is, they make intentional trips just to connect the dots, as it were, traveling from one light to the next in a quest to see how many they can visit.

Big Sable Point edit _0018
People don’t visit the Big Sable Point Lighthouse by accident; it is at the end of a 1.8-mile hike through the sand dunes at Ludington State Park.

At various times in our lives, Kaye and I have been “collectors” as well.  Living in Michigan, it’s not a difficult thing to do, since the Great Lakes are lined with scores of these beautiful old structures.  Anyone who travels along the lakeshore will sooner or later spot the next one, and if their timing is right, they may get to climb the tower or tour a historic light keeper’s house.

DSC_0421
Locals often gather at the shore to enjoy the evening sunset at Point Betsie Lighthouse near Frankfort, Michigan.

Fortunately, lighthouse tours are becoming more common as the state and federal governments turn over more and more of the old properties to preservationist groups who take over the maintenance and open them up to the public for tours.

Little Sable Point lighthouse wcaption edit.jpg
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA) is raising funds to rebuild the keepers’ house from the ground up at Little Sable Point Lighthouse, Mears, MI.
White River Light Station wcaption.jpg
White River Light Station at Pentwater, Michigan, is now a museum; the curator lives in the upstairs of the original keeper’s house.

Lighthouses are designed to be visible, and it’s fun to notice the differences from one to the next.  The original day mark – appearance by daylight – had be distinctive so that ship captains would not confuse them with neighboring installations.  This makes for a plethora of beautiful designs from stripes to contrasting colors.

Holland Lighthouse 020.jpg
The day mark at the Holland, Michigan, lighthouse is a highly visible solid red paint.

The night mark – or characteristic – of the lights at night had to be distinctive as well, so they were varied by colors: white, red, and green, and also by duration: flashing or solid.

Pointe aux Barques Light lom 041
The Point Aux Barques lighthouse  near Port Austin, Michigan, has a flashing white light separated by intervals of 20 seconds and 4.8 seconds.  There are two beacons aimed in different directions on a rotating turntable to deliver this effect.

Most of the still operating lights are owned by the Coast Guard, but only the actual lamps and lenses in the towers.  The properties and structures are now leased and operated by maritime history lovers.  There are several at which you may volunteer and help with the preservation.

Kaye and I spent two weeks at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan, staying in the keeper’s house and running the gift shop and museum every day with five other volunteers.

Big Sable leaf blower
I used a leaf blower to clear the sand off the boardwalks every day.
Big Sable tower guy
Answering visitors’ questions was part of the job at the top of the tower.

Lighthouses are fascinating structures, and there are loads of folks who are living under the spell, chasing  along the seashores and lakeshores of America from one light to the next.

Are you following the wandering shoreline to see the next tower around the bend?   It is a lot of fun.  And those who live in the Great Lakes state are especially blessed to be in such close proximity to so many great landmarks.

Here are a few more photos of lighthouses we have “collected” over the years:

St. Augustine Light lomo
The day mark at St. Augustine, Florida, is a black and white spiral.  Cool.
Fort Jefferson and lighthouse
The lighthouse at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, is perched on the top of the brick walls of the massive old fort.
Grand Haven Lighthouses wcaption.jpg
The Grand Haven, Michigan, lights are lined up on a long pier that extends almost a quarter mile from shore.
Grand Haven lighthouse in a storm
When the gales of November come howling across Lake Michigan, hundreds of people gather at the shore to watch the gigantic waves crash over the 36-foot-high pierhead lighthouse.
S. Manitou Island Lighthouse 400.jpg
Many lighthouses are on islands, like this beauty on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan at Leland, Michigan.  It is reached by a 1-1/2 hour boat ride.

I have produced a calendar with 13 high-definition images of Michigan lighthouses, but the 2016 Michigan Lighthouses calendar is sold out.  I will be collecting more great lighthouse photos during 2017 and will offer a new edition of the calendar later in the year.  I will post a notice when it is ready.

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