What’s Missing at Old Mackinac Point?

What’s Missing at Old Mackinac Point?

When you visit the Old Mackinac Point Light Station today, you are stepping back in time to the early years of the 20th century. Since 2004, Mackinac State Historic Parks has been working to return the station grounds to their appearance just over 100 years ago. Three original buildings- the 1892 keepers’ quarters and tower, the 1906 fog signal building, and the 1892 barn- have all been restored to their original appearance, while the 1890 warehouse was reconstructed to match the original in 2014. The station looks complete, but there are still a few elements missing.

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Visitors at Old Mackinac Point

Visitors at Old Mackinac Point

Some visitors, like this Lighthouse Service inspector being greeted by Keeper George Marshall, came on official business.

Some visitors, like this Lighthouse Service inspector being greeted by Keeper George Marshall, came on official business.

The Old Mackinac Point light station was always popular with visitors. While tourists today visit the preserved light station as an historic site and museum, beginning in 1890 visitors also toured the station while it served as an active aid to navigation. (more…)

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Armistice Day Storm of 1940

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Armistice Day Storm of 1940

November storms on the Great Lakes are infamous for their ferocity and violence. Some, such as the Great Storm of 1913, which sank 12 ships and killed over 250 people, or the 1975 storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, are well known. In November 1940, another strong storm struck the Great Lakes and caused widespread damage, including in the Straits of Mackinac. (more…)

Two New Vingettes Join Nearly 60 Years of Publications

Two New Vingettes Join Nearly 60 Years of Publications

2016_MaritimeTragedyVignette_TanCover Changing Face of Fort MackinacMackinac State Historic Parks is pleased to announce the publication of two new vignettes as part of its Mackinac History series. Numbers six and seven of the fourth volume are “Relics of Maritime Tragedy: Objects from Straits of Mackinac Shipwrecks” by Registrar Brian Jaseschke and “The Changing Face of Fort Mackinac” by Museum Historian Craig Wilson. (more…)

A Century Ago at Old Mackinac Point – December 15, 1915

Have you ever kept a journal or a diary? Looking back at what you’ve written can help you remember ideas, special events, and how you felt at a certain time. A century ago, the keepers at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse were required to keep a log of their daily activities, and while the logs don’t reveal the keepers’ emotions, they do tell us a great deal about what life was like at the station. (more…)

Anniversary of the Cedarville

Anniversary of the Cedarville

At 9:45 a.m. on Friday, May 7, 1965, two ships collided in dense fog in the middle of the Straits of Mackinac. One of them, the limestone-carrying freighter Cedarville, capsized and sank approximately 40 minutes later just off Old Mackinac Point. Fifty years later, the loss of Cedarville remains the one of the worst maritime disasters in the straits, claiming 10 lives.

Cedarville (1)

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March 3, 1891: Funds Appropriated for Building a Lighthouse at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse plansOn March 3, 1891, almost two years to the day after authorizing the construction of a light station at Old Mackinac Point, the U.S. Congress appropriated $20,000 to build a light tower, keepers’ dwelling, barn, and oil house at the site. These new structures would join Old Mackinac Point’s fog signal station, which had been authorized in 1889 and completed in 1890. (more…)

Lamps and Lenses: How Old Mackinac Point Shed its Light

What puts the light in a lighthouse? Until 1913, a single lamp provided the light for the beacon at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first decade of the lighthouse's existence. It  was eventually replaced with a brighter, electric light.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first 20 years of the lighthouse’s existence. It was eventually replaced with a gas lamp and then an electric light.

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

Like most other lighthouses in the United States, Old Mackinac Point used a kerosene lantern not unlike those still found in many homes today. Keeper George Marshall’s duties included regularly fueling the lamp, as it burned over 5 ounces of kerosene per hour. A red glass lamp chimney originally produced a red light, helping sailors identify Old Mackinac Point. Both the kerosene lamp and red light were replaced in 1913, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service installed an incandescent oil vapor mechanism, which produces a white light similar to a modern camping lantern.

While the kerosene lamp itself shone brightly, a fourth-order Fresnel lens amplified the Old Mackinac Point light until it was visible to a distance of 16 miles. The lens contained a series of stacked magnifying glasses around its center, with each glass focusing the light from the one beneath it. Prisms ringed the lens above and below the magnifying glasses. These prisms caught and bent more light, focusing it into the central beam created by the magnifiers. The entire lens rotated around the lamp, creating a flashing signature (one flash every 10 seconds) unique to Old Mackinac Point.