Forty Mile Point Lighthouse – A Historic Beacon on Lake Huron’s Shipwreck Coast
The 40 Mile Point Lighthouse is so named due to its distance by boat from Mackinaw City. In the late 1890s this brick building was constructed to provide light into Lake Huron over the water south of Cheboygan and north of Presque Isle. Today, this lighthouse is open as a park and museum, with hours varying by season. There are numerous maritime artifacts at the site, and when the lighthouse is open and staffed it is possible to climb the tower for a great view.
The lighthouse is constructed of brick, with a square tower painted white and a black lantern room. It stands 52 feet tall and was lit for the first time in 1897. For eveidence of why this light was necessary, visitors need look no further than the wreck of the S.S. Joseph S. Fay – a steamer that ran aground here in 1905 whose remains can be seen in the sand just a few hundred feet from the lighthouse.
In addition to the remains of the steamship, you can also check out the wheelhouse of the former freighter Calcite, which sits near the parking area. There is also a two-sided Michigan historical marker in the park, with the first side dedicated to the history of the lighthouse:
During the late 1800s, the U.S. Lighthouse Board created a system of coastal lights along Lake Huron’s Michigan shore so that mariners would always be within sight of at least one. With a light south of Forty Mile Point on the Presque Isle Peninsula and one one to the north at Cheboygan, and eighteen mile stretch of shoreline remained unlighted and dangerous. In1890 the board recommended that a light be built at Forty Mile Point. The light was completed in 1896, and Xavier Rains served as the first keeper, The lighthouse was transferred to Presque Isle County in 1998, but the Coast Guard retained ownership of its Fresnal lens. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The second side details Lake Huron’s reputation as a Graveyard of Ships:
Named by seventeenth century French explores La Mer Douce the sweet or freshwater sea, Lake Huron is the second largest of the five Great Lakes. It has over 3,800 miles of shoreline and contains 30,000 islands, among them Manitoulin, the world’s largest freshwater island. Violent storms on the “sweet sea” have made it dangerous for ships. As of 2006, 1,200 wrecks had been recorded. During the Big Blow of 1905, twenty-seven wooden vessels were lost. One of these, the steamer Joseph S. Fay, ran aground. A portion of its hull rests on the beach approximately 200 feet north of the Forty Mile Lighthouse. The Great Storm of 1913 was responsible for sinking many modern ships.
The portion of the lighthouse that is open as a museum has been restored to give a glimpse into what life was like for the keepers and crew at the turn of the century. Models of freighters that operated as well as a handful of nautical artifacts are some of the other highlights of a brief tour. The view from the tower is also quite spectacular, as a short sandy beach gives way to the mighty waters of Lake Huron:
The 40 Mile Point Lighthouse is easy to find due to its location just off US-23 north of Rogers City. For details on when the lighthouse is open and when tours are available, head over to http://www.40milepointlighthouse.org/.