Michigan’s Tallest Lake Huron Lighthouse Celebrates a Big Anniversary in 2020
Michigan is home to five lighthouses that are more than 100 feet tall. Only one of these towers is located on Lake Huron, and in 2020 it will celebrate a landmark anniversary. The New Presque Isle Lighthouse in Northern Michigan turns 150 years old this year, which makes it the perfect year to visit and climb to the top of the 113 foot tall tower. While the lighthouse grounds are accessible all year long, the tower and neighboring museum complex do not open to the public until May 22nd. In this post we will provide some of the history of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse, and give all the details on how to visit it and the nearby Old Presque Isle Lighthouse that it replaced.
The history of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse actually starts a few miles down the road at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. The Michigan historical marker at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse provides some background: “Presque Isle Harbor is one of Lake Huron’s safest harbors of refuge. Its name comes from the peninsula which, translating from the French, is “almost an Island.” Indians and Frenchmen portaged across the peninsula to avoid several miles of open lake. When vessels came to the harbor in increasing numbers, Congress in 1838 appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse. Jeremiah Moors of Detroit in 1840 completed this lighthouse, which today is one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes.” In addition to being one of the oldest lighthouses in Michigan, it was also one of the most short-lived. In less than 30 years of operation the lighthouse tower and the nearby dwelling had been battered by weather enough that it was deemed more cost effective to build an entirely new lighthouse than to repair the existing one.
The New Presque Isle Lighthouse was designed by Orlando M. Poe, a Civil War Brigadier General who became the Lighthouse Board’s Chief Engineer for the Upper Great Lakes Lighthouse District after the war. “Poe was responsible for all lighthouse construction, and he was largely responsible for the design of a style of lighthouse tower that has become known as the “Poe style” tower. These towers are all tall brick structures, with a gentle taper from bottom to top. All of the Poe designed feature graceful embellishments in the form of masonry gallery support corbels and arch topped windows.” (www.terrypepper.com) Other “Poe style” towers that would be constructed after New Presque included South Manitou Island Light (MI), Grosse Point Light (IL), Au Sable Point Light Station (MI), Wind Point Light (WI), Outer Island Lighthouse (WI), Little Sable Point Light (MI), Seul Choix Point Light (MI), and Spectacle Reef Light (MI). Poe was also responsible for designing the first Poe Lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie.
The 113 foot tower has a diameter of 19 feet 3 inches at ground level and tapers down to a diameter of 12 feet 4 inches at the parapet. The tower is attached to a two-story keepers dwelling that now serves as a museum, gift shop, and gateway to the tower.
After a fog signal was added to the station in the 1890s it added more work and more workers, necessitating the building of a second keepers house in 1905. This house was used as a residence for the keeper, and in later years it housed U.S. Coast Guard personnel. Find out more at https://presqueislelighthouses.org/lighthouses/keepers-house-museum-1905/.
Other attractions at this park include Garrity Hall, a picnic pavilion near the site of the old foghorn, a sunset lookout area on North Bay, and many nautical artifacts. The area is home to nine known shipwrecks that make the area popular with divers. Check out our photo gallery to see more pictures from our visits to the park.
The museum areas are full of historical information about the station and the men and women who kept it running. The Third Order Fresnel lens that used to shine from the top of the tower has been restored and is now a highlight of visiting. Climbing to the top of the tower requires climbing more than 100 stairs, but the view from the top is amazing in any season. This is one of the tallest lighthouses on the Great Lakes that has a tower open for the public to climb.
Another stop for lighthouse lovers and history buffs when visiting Presque Isle is the Presque Isle Front Range Light, located just south of the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. This small yet important light was part of a pair of beacons that helped guide ships into the channel leading into the harbor. A statue here honors Anna Garrity, one of the few female lightkeepers on the Great Lakes and the caretake of the range light for more than two decades.
Be sure to check out the Presque Isle Township Museum Society website for up to date details on this year’s events to celebrate the New Presque Isle Lighthouse. They also maintain a Facebook page full of photos, videos and links to upcoming events. Another famous Michigan lighthouse also celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, be on the lookout for a post about that Lake Michigan beacon soon.