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 

Founded in 1889, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse served as a point of light in the storm and helped passing ships navigate through the treacherous waters of the Straits of Mackinac. In operation for 65 years, the light station saw numerous technological advances, but also served as a home for numerous light keepers and their families. The light shone brightly until 1957, when the station was decommissioned.

1889- Congress establishes a light station at Old Mackinac Point and authorizes $5,500 for the construction of a fog signal at the site.

1890- Fog signal constructed and fog whistles placed in operation in November.

1891- Congress appropriates $20,000 for the construction of a light tower, keepers’ quarters, and other buildings at Old Mackinac Point.

1892- Lighthouse tower, keepers’ quarters, barn, and oil house are constructed. The light is lit for the first time on October 25, showing a red flashing light every 10 seconds. The Lighthouse Board determines the fog signal is too close to the keepers’ quarters and begins planning a new fog signal.

1893- The Lighthouse Board begins proceedings to acquire additional property for a new fog signal. Legal problems and arguments over the property last for several years.

1905- Legal issues concerning the new fog signal property are finally resolved, and the Lighthouse Board acquires the land from the Village of Mackinaw City.

1906- A new brick fog signal building is constructed on the east side of the station, and goes into operation in December. The old fog signal building is moved to the rear of the station to serve as a warehouse.

1913- An incandescent oil vapor (IOV) system, similar to a modern camping lantern, replaces an oil lamp as the light source in the tower. The station’s light characteristic is changed from red to white.

1920- Weather Bureau monitoring equipment is added to the station, and keepers take regular readings.

1926- Running water is added to the keepers’ quarters.

1928- Indoor bathrooms and electric lights are added to the keepers’ quarters. An electric light bulb replaces the IOV system as the light source in the tower.

1929- The barn is moved to the east end of the station grounds.

1933- Air horns, powered by electric motors, replace the steam whistles in the fog signal.

1937- A radio beacon, including a 132-foot tall antenna, is installed at the station.

1939- The U.S. Coast Guard assumes responsibility for all lighthouses. Coast Guard personnel begin serving at Old Mackinac Point alongside civilian keepers.

1940s- The warehouse is torn down.

1941- A new lens replaced the original in the tower

1957- The station is decommissioned with the completion of the Mackinac Bridge.

1960- The station is acquired by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.

1972- The lighthouse opens as the center of the new Michilimackinac Maritime Park.

1990- The lighthouse and maritime park are closed.

2000- Restoration of the station to its 1910 appearance begins.

2004- The keepers’ quarters, tower, and fog signal open to the public as a “restoration in progress.”

2005- The barn, which was removed from the site after the station closed, is restored and returned to its original location.

2014- The warehouse is reconstructed as a home for the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum.

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

Structures

  • 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)

Keepers:

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