A Legal Battle at the Lighthouse

A Legal Battle at the Lighthouse

The brick 1906 fog signal building sits just east of the 1892 keepers’ quarters. The 1890 fog signal originally occupied the space between the two buildings, where benches now line the sidewalk.

Today, visitors to Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse enter the site via the Fog Signal Building, constructed in 1906. The machinery originally housed inside powered fog whistles, and later air horns, to guide sailors during periods of poor visibility. The building itself, however, was only constructed after a 13-year legal dispute between the federal government and the Village of Mackinaw City. (more…)

Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s History

Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s History

Fort Holmes, reopened in 2015.

Mackinac Associates’ mission is simple and encompassing: Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s Heritage.

Mackinac Associates is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks through membership dues and other gifts. Mackinac Associates members have supported needed projects in every area of museum operation, and make possible interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, natural history education, park improvements and more. (more…)

Railroads in Mackinaw City

Railroads in Mackinaw City

An early 1880s ad for the Grand Rapids and Indiana.

Although platted in 1857, Mackinaw City remained undeveloped until about 1870. By then a village stood on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac, and steamboats linked the community with cities around the Great Lakes. However, the town remained small and isolated until 1881, when the first train arrived.

The Michigan Central Railroad was the first to reach Mackinaw, running north from Detroit through Saginaw. George Stimpson, an early settler and prominent resident, drove the final spike. A year later, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad also reached the straits, linking Mackinaw City with Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. On the north shore, meanwhile, the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette Railroad ran west from St. Ignace across the Upper Peninsula. The railroads brought increased traffic to the straits and Mackinaw City grew quickly, formally incorporating as a village in 1882. (more…)

Married at Mackinac: James and Danielle

Married at Mackinac: James and Danielle

Mackinac State Historic Parks has 10 wedding venues spread between Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City. From the original gazebo in the movie Somewhere in Time to the lighthouse at Old Mackinac Point featuring a stunning view of the Mackinac Bridge, MSHP’s wedding venues offer a little something for everyone.

We thought it would be fun to showcase some of the weddings at our sites in an occasional series. Here is the first entry: (more…)

Winter at Old Mackinac Point

Winter at Old Mackinac Point

At most light stations on the Great Lakes, winter was a quiet time for the lightkeepers. With commercial freighters and passenger vessels frozen in their harbors for the winter, there was little traffic on the lakes to warrant keeping light stations operational. Some remote lights were even abandoned every winter, with crews returning only when the ice began to break up in the spring. At Old Mackinac Point, however, keepers stayed at the station and even continued to work once snow started falling. (more…)

The Fog Whistle

The Fog Whistle

Plans for a Lighthouse Service 10-inch whistle, from the 1902 Instructions to Light-Keepers.

Although the light at the top of the tower may be the defining feature of most lighthouses, stations like Old Mackinac Point usually had another, equally valuable signaling system to help keep sailors safe. The light, while valuable in relatively clear conditions, couldn’t always be seen through haze, smoke, driving rain, or fog. During times of low visibility, the keepers turned on Old Mackinac Point’s other signaling system: the fog whistle. (more…)

The Fresnel Lens

The Fresnel Lens

One of the plano-convex lenses that make up Old Mackinac Point’s original lens. These simple lenses, sometimes called bullseyes, could be grouped together to project multiple beams of light.

Fresnel lenses served as the heart of lighthouses around the world, including at Old Mackinac Point. Invented by French scientist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in 1819, these brass and glass beehives bent, magnified, and focused light to project brilliant beams for miles. (more…)

Ongoing Restoration Work at Old Mackinac Point

Ongoing Restoration Work at Old Mackinac Point

If you’ve visited the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse this summer, you’ve probably seen evidence of a major restoration project: piles of bricks, power tools, and scaffolding surrounding the tower and keepers’ quarters. This work, which is progressing nicely, is carefully repairing and rehabilitating the bricks and mortar of the lighthouse, ensuring that Old Mackinac Point can continue welcoming guests for years to come. (more…)

Guarding the Straits: The St. Helena Light Station

Guarding the Straits: The St. Helena Light Station

St. Helena Light Station as it looks today. Photo courtesy Craig Wilson.

Old Mackinac Point is just one of over a dozen light stations that helped guide sailors through the Straits of Mackinac. On a clear day, five of these stations can still be seen from the top of Old Mackinac Point’s tower. About eight miles to the northwest, in Lake Michigan, is the St. Helena light, which shared a great deal of history with Old Mackinac Point.

The island of St. Helena was home to a thriving fishing village for much of the 19th century. Steamships stopped at St. Helena to replenish their supply of wood for fuel, and sought shelter in the island’s natural harbor. However, dangerous shoals extend from the east and west ends of the island, imperiling vessels attempting to reach the safety of the harbor. To warn sailors of these dangers, Congress approved funding for a new light station on St. Helena in 1872, and the tower and keepers’ quarters were completed the next year. The station’s 3½-order Fresnel lens was lit for the first time in September 1873. Additional structures, including an oil house, wharf, and boat house, were added in the 1890s.   (more…)