The Project Goes On…

In 2004, Mackinac State Historic Parks began a long-term project to restore the original buildings at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station and reconstruct the missing elements. The station is well documented, but archaeology has played a role, too.

 The lighthouse in 1918. The privy can be seen to the right.

   The most recent archaeological effort involved the free-standing privy, originally located about six feet west of the warehouse which now houses the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. The privy was demolished after the light station was connected to the Mackinaw City sewer system in 1929. The remains of the brick privy foundation were found through test excavations in 2013. At that time, the focus was on locating the privy ruins so they could be avoided during the reconstruction of the warehouse.

   A privy incorporated into the original “barn” was located during test excavations in 2004 prior to the structure being returned to its original location. Those excavations revealed that the privy had been cleaned out and filled with sand after it was abandoned.

Dr. Lynn Evans on site.

   Recent test excavation at the site of the free-standing privy was designed to determine if it had also been cleaned out after it was no longer in use. A 1’ x 1’ square was excavated in the interior of the privy area. The different soils encountered were removed and screened separately. The top three layers (a total of 13.5” deep) were deposited as part of MSHP’s restoration work and dated to the 2014 construction of the warehouse, the 2013 test excavation and landscaping carried out in 2006-07 respectively. Below that were two layers (a total of 6.5” thick) from mid- to late twentieth century parking lots and driveways. Below that was a thick (17”) layer of mottled clay. It has been seen in previous excavations at the light station capping pre-1929 features. Only a few artifacts were found during this test excavation, but most of them, three nails and some coal, came from this layer.

This image shows the soil layers in the testpit. From the top: rocky fill from 2014; gold sand from 2013; brown fill from 2006-07; rocky roadbed from mid-twentieth century; mottled pink and gray sand from 1929.

   What was below the clay layer would answer the question of if the privy had been cleaned out. We expected to find beach sand if it had been cleaned and rich, artifact-bearing soil if it had not. What we found was black sandy loam containing only one fragment of window glass. After only two inches, something very solid was encountered and the testpit was complete. Because the testpit was over three feet deep at this point, it was being excavated with posthole diggers and it was difficult to get a good look at the bottom of the pit.

   We still don’t know for sure that the privy was not cleaned out, but the results of this test indicate that it would be worthwhile to carry out a larger scale excavation. In the meantime, we know that the original foundation and privy deposit are deep enough that the privy can be reconstructed without damaging them. Check our website for further updates, but also consider making a donation to Mackinac Associates, which helps fund our ongoing archaeological programs.




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…)