Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse History

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse History

For sixty-five years, four generations of lighthouse keepers and their families lived at Old Mackinac Point Light Station.  Their devotion to duty helped ensure the safety of vessels in the Straits of Mackinac.  The lighthouse complex included a tower and attached duplex, fog signal building and storage barn.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Chronology 

1889 United States Congress Establishes a light station at Old Mackinac Point.

1890 Title to property secured and construction of Fog Signal begins.  Fog Signal operates for the first time on November 5.

1891 Congress appropriates funds for lighthouse.  George Marshall arrives as first keeper.

1892 Construction begins in May and is completed in October.  Lighted for the first time on October 25.

1907 New Fog Signal building completed.

1913 Lens lamp converted from kerosene to incandescent oil vapor.

1919 George Marshall retires.  His son James appointed keeper.

1928 Electricity and municipal water (and bathrooms) added to dwelling.

1929 Oil lamp of lens replaced with electric light.  Central furnace added to dwelling.  Privy and oil house razed and barn moved form original location to southeast corner of property.

1937-38 Radio beacon established at station.

1940 James Marshall retires.  Henrik Olsen appointed keeper.

1951 Henrik Olsen retires.  John Campbell appointed keeper.

1957 Light station closed following construction of the Mackinac Bridge.

1960 Mackinac Island State Park Commission acquires property.

1972 Mackinac Maritime Park opens with lighthouse as main exhibit gallery.

1989 Maritime park closes.

1999 Restoration of lighthouse begins.

2000 Fog Signal opened to the public as a restoration information center.

2004 Restored lighthouse opens.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Historical Facts and FAQ

  • Established: 1889
  • Years of Operation: Fog Signal completed 1890; Lighthouse completed 1892; Radio Beacon installed 1937-38; Station closes 1957
  • Height of tower:  Approximately 58 feet from ground to lightning rod (about five stories).
  • Focal Plane: 50 feet
  • Height above low water: 62 feet
  • Lens: Fourth Order Fresnel
  • Light characteristics: Red light, flashing every ten seconds.
  • Distance visible: 16 miles


  • Duplex dwelling and tower (1892)
  • Fog Signal Building (1907)
  • Barn (1892; moved to new location on site in 1929 and converted in to a garage in the 1940s; moved offsite in 1961; restored to original location in 2005)
  • Original Fog Signal Building (1890; moved to new location on site in 1907 and used as a warehouse; destroyed in the 1940s; reconstruction completed 2014)
  • Oil House (1892; destroyed 1929)
  • Privy (ca. 1910; destroyed 1929)


George Marshall (1844-1932) Keeper: 1890-1919

James Marshall (1882-1941) Keeper: 1919-1940

Henrik Olsen (1890-1970) Keeper: 1940-1951

John Campbell (1898-1963) Keeper: 1951-1957



Mackinac State Historic Parks is a family of living history museums and nature parks in northern Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac and is an agency within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Its sites—which are accredited by the American Association of Museums—include Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island State Park, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum,  and McGulpin House on Mackinac Island, and Michilimackinac State Park, Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City. Combined attendance is 1.2 million people each year. The living history sites are open daily from early May to early October. The natural history sites are open year round.

Mission Statement

At Mackinac State Historic Parks, we protect, preserve and present Mackinac’s rich historical and natural resources to provide outstanding educational and recreational experiences for the public.

Organizational History

National Park Beginnings
The Mackinac Island State Park Commission was created in 1895 to supervise Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan’s first state park, which had been transferred to the state by the United States government. For 20 years prior to this, the federal government administered these lands as Mackinac National Park, the nation’s second such park after Yellowstone. Today, the park includes the 14 original buildings of Fort Mackinac, which were built by the British military starting in 1780, as well as several other historic structures and about 1,800 acres of land. More than 800,000 visitors come to the island each year.

Revenue Bond Program
In 1958, the Commission embarked on an ambitious plan to sell revenue bonds to finance the preservation and development of its historic sites. The program was modeled after financing used for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. It has allowed for successful restoration and historical programs at Colonial Michilimackinac, Fort Mackinac, Historic Downtown, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park . The bonds are now retired, and museum operating costs are primarily paid from admission revenues and the proceeds of publication and museum store sales. The revenue bond program has created one of the most visited history museum complexes in the nation, with nearly 400,000 visitors each season.

Park Acquisitions
Mackinac Island State Park was created in 1895. In 1904, the site of Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City was added to the Commission’s jurisdiction. From 1715, when it was established by the French, to 1780-81 when it was dismantled by the British and moved to Mackinac Island, Michilimackinac had been a thriving fur-trade community. When deeded to the Commission, the 27-acre site was a popular trailer park and camp site.

Historic Mill Creek joined the park system in 1975. This 625-acre nature park with a reconstructed water-powered sawmill is located on the shore of Lake Huron 3.5 miles southeast of Mackinaw City. In 1972, archaeologists discovered that a sawmill on this site was used to produce lumber and grain.  In 2008 it was renamed Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and an adventure tour aspect was added to the popular natural history program.

Natural History
In addition to preserving and interpreting Mackinac’s cultural heritage, the park system focuses on natural history. Summer-season naturalists at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park lead nature talks and tours to educate visitors about Mackinac’s water, woods, and wildlife. An adventure tour leads visitors to the tree tops over a bridge, has you above looking at the straits like a predator and zipping down on line to look for food in the creek like an eagle.  Natural history interpretive signs are located throughout Mill Creek and at Mackinac Island State Park, and park system publications support this message.

Restoration at Fort Mackinac and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Since 1958, Fort Mackinac has been the subject of extensive research by professional historians, archaeologists, and architects. Michigan’s oldest buildings have been restored, preserved, and are brought to life through dynamic exhibits and lively interpretive programs depicting American soldier and family life from the 1880s, the height of Mackinac’s resort era. Nearly 200,000 guests visit Fort Mackinac each year.

From June through August, costumed interpreters at five of the parks’ historic downtown buildings tell stories of island life. Topics covered include the fur trade (American Fur Company Store and Biddle House), architecture (McGulpin House), medicine (Dr. Beaumont Museum), religion (Mission Church), and blacksmithing (Benjamin Blacksmith Shop). Additionally, staff present period cooking and craft demonstrations at the Biddle House.

After a period in which it served as the focal point of a maritime park, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse re-opened to the public with a restored interior, new interactive exhibits, and period settings in 2004. A fog signal building (now an admission area and gift shop) and barn also occupy the site: the barn and surrounding landscaping will be the focus of continued restoration in the future.

Reconstruction at Colonial Michilimackinac and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
In 1959, archaeological excavation at the site of Michilimackinac revealed the remains of a village and palisades, which had been the center of the upper Great Lakes fur trade. In 1960, the park staff began to systematically reconstruct the village according to archaeological and historical research and, each summer since, a team of archaeologists has continued this work. Colonial Michilimackinac hosts more than 100,000 visitors each year.

Interpretation at the fort and village focuses on the British 1770s military and fur-trading era. Reconstruction of Historic Mill Creek’s water-powered sawmill and the development of its nature trails began in 1977 with a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and it opened in 1984. Every summer, 50,000 visitors meet interpreters dressed as 1820s sawyers and millwrights who run the mill and use its lumber for such projects as reconstructing the Millwright’s House.  They also enjoy a new aspect of natural history with the adventure tour added in 2008.

Professional Programs
To fulfill its mission, Mackinac State Historic Parks operate programs of archaeological and historical research, environmental and historic preservation, museum collections, publicationsm and interpretation. The parks employ a diverse group of museum and operations staff responsible for the care of 2,700 acres of land, National Historic Landmark buildings, more than 1 million archaeological and historical artifacts, documents, photographs, and museum exhibitions. The Mackinac Heritage Center on Mackinac Island was built for the care of historical collections; archaeological collections are conserved and stored in the Eugene and Marian Petersen Archaeology and History Center in Mackinaw City. The Petersen Center is also home to the parks’ research library.

Education Outreach
Mackinac State Historic Parks currently takes two programs into classrooms around the state: “Historic Mackinac on Tour” allows students to explore the complex cultural relationships that powered 18th century Michigan. “Winter in Michigan’s North Woods: Amazing Animal Adaptations” is an interactive presentation that explores what plants and animals need to survive, the climate of our region, and why the seasons change. In addition, these programs and four others are available in a virtual format. On average, costumed interpreters visit about 10,000 students in 65 schools throughout Michigan each year to teach them about Mackinac history. Mackinac Associates, the parks’ friends and fundraising organization, is an active sponsor of this program. Education packets, videos, slideshows, artifact boxes, and curriculum materials are available to teachers; school site visits to the parks are encouraged as well.

Mackinac State Historic Parks video