Privy Addition at Old Mackinac Point

Restoring a historic site to its original appearance is usually an ongoing activity. At the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, restoration has been underway since 2004 to return the station buildings and grounds to the way they looked just over a century ago. This summer, another small historic addition appeared at the lighthouse that you may not have noticed. Attached to the back of the station barn, you can now see a reconstructed privy cleanout, which allowed the keepers to maintain the privy located in the barn between 1892 and 1928. (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…)

Coming Soon to Old Mackinac Point

Coming Soon to Old Mackinac Point

Although the museums and historic sites are closed, winter is a busy time here at Mackinac State Historic Parks! One of many projects currently taking place is the installation of a new science and technology exhibit at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City. (more…)

Life as a Child at Old Mackinac Point

Life as a Child at Old Mackinac Point

Although it was an official government installation intended to guide ships safely through the Straits of Mackinac, the Old Mackinac Point Light Station was also home to several families, complete with pets and children. Between 1890 and 1957, several kids lived at the station, each experiencing and sometimes helping with the daily routine of operating a Great Lakes lighthouse.

Olsen Family

Olsens- Keeper Henrik Olsen with his wife, Nila, and their sons Ray and Bruce.


Keeper James Marshall poses with his three children sometime around 1930. They are proudly displaying the “Efficiency” flag awarded to Old Mackinac Point.


Chester Marshall and Delcie, daughter of his sister Ethel, play outside on the station grounds in 1916.


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…)

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…)

Today in History: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Fog Signal Sounded

On this day in 1890, Keeper George Marshall sounded the fog signal at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station for the very first time. This first blast of the fog whistle signaled the completion of a project begun a year earlier. In March 1889, Congress passed two acts regarding the creation of a light station at Old Mackinac Point. The first formally established the Old Mackinac Point Light Station, while the second appropriated $5,500 for the construction of a fog signal.

This photograph from the early 1900s shows Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the fog signal building. The inset image shows the two steam whistles next to the boiler vent stacks.

The fog signal sounded on November 5, 1890 was mounted on a 20’ by 40’ corrugated iron building. Inside, two identical steam boilers and associated machinery powered 10” steam whistles, which were mounted above the roof of the building. Although only one boiler and whistle were used at a time, keepers maintained the second set of machinery as a backup system. To help sailors identify the Old Mackinac Point fog signal, the fog whistles automatically sounded in a unique pattern: a 5-second blast, followed by 17 seconds of silence, followed by another 5-second blast, followed by 33 seconds of silence. Other light stations sounded their own unique whistle signatures.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service replaced the original 1890 fog signal building with a brick structure in 1907. New boilers and whistles were installed in this building. The fog whistles at Old Mackinac Point may have sounded like this: Click here to listen to a steam whistle.

The fog whistles themselves were replaced by air horns in the 1930s. Click here to listen to the fog horns at Old Mackinac Point Click here to hear it.

Click here for more information or to purchase a copy of one of Mackinac State Historic ParksOld Mackinac Point Lighthouse publications.