Lansing Shoal Lighthouse, Lake Michigan
Michigan is home to more than 120 lighthouses, many of which are located out in the Great Lakes far from land. Lansing Shoal Lighthouse is one of the harder to visit lighthouse in Lake Michigan, as it sits marking shallow areas roughly 10 miles north of Beaver Island. One of our 2021 Michigan travel goals was to visit at least two new Michigan lighthouses, and we were able to join a Shepler’s Lighthouse Cruise in June and accomplish that goal by visiting both Lansing Shoal Lighthouse and the Squaw Island Lighthouse for the first time. On this cruise we saw several great lighthouse while also learning about their history and hearing stories about the people that tended them. Today we look at the history of this beacon that dates back to 1928 while sharing some pictures from our visit.
The shoal in northern Lake Michigan that this lighthouse warns mariners of was once marked by a lightship, and then by a different lightship. It wasn’t until 1926 that funds were appropriated to build a permanent lighthouse here, and after nearly two years of construction the light was turned on for the first time in October of 1928.
Lansing Shoal Lighthouse is built on a concrete crib that is 20 feet high and 74 feet square. The house area that was home to a kitchen, dining room, and some crew quarters sits on top of the crib. Centered on top of that is a three story tower topped with a lantern room, giving the lighthouse a total height of 59 feet. A basement under the house that is 69 feet on each side was split in half to make rooms for machinery and crew quarters.
After visiting this site, we tried to imagine how lonely it would get at such an isolated post. The thick concrete here helped preserve the lighthouse in many storms, including one in the 1940s during which 126 mile per hour winds were recorded at the station. Lansing Shoal Lighthouse had a relatively short-lived career as improvements in radar and communications led to its automation in 1976. Its Fresnel lens was removed and replaced with a modern optic; the original lens is now located at the Michigan History Museum in Lansing.
It was an additional treat to see the American Steamship Company freighter Walter J. McCarthy Jr. pass by while we were visiting the lighthouse. This 1,000 foot ship is the same size and from the same fleet as the Indiana Harbor, which collided with the Lansing Shoal Lighthouse in the 1990s causing nearly $2 million in damage to the ship but only $100,000 in damage to the lighthouse.