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Wine Fest - Antique Show Sturgeon Point Lighhouse Lighthouses
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More Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

By Cheryl Peterson
Travelers using US-23 as they make their way into the northern climes of the Lower Peninsula will glimpse patches of sparkling blue Lake Huron between the leafy green forests along the way. What they won't see, unless they journey off the beaten path, are the silent white sentinels that guided past travelers as they made their way along the Great Lake many, many years ago.

There are four easily accessible lighthouses (and two that are a bit of a challenge) along US-23 from East Tawas to Cheboygan - a great adventure for anyone who enjoys the Lake Huron shoreline and learning about the history of the region.

Tawas Point Lighthouse is located on the grounds of Tawas Point State Park, 686 Tawas Beach Road, East Tawas. The drive out to and through the park to the lighthouse affords many views of Lake Huron and visitors, once they are in the park, can use the beaches, picnic grounds and amenities of the park in addition to touring the lighthouse and grounds, including a gift shop.

Construction began on Tawas Point Lighthouse, at Ottawa Point, in September 1852. The ever changing and shifting sands that formed Ottawa Point necessitated the construction of a new lighthouse closer to the point to aid ships as they navigated through the busy area. Construction of the new light began in August 1876. A fourth order Fresnel lens from Paris, France was exhibited on September 1, 1891. It is still in use today, even though the lighthouse was automated in 1953. The tower is open for climbing and the lighthouse keeper's quarters are a museum. Anyone looking to spend a week or more at the lighthouse can apply for the Tawas Point Keeper Program. For more information, see Michigan.gov/tawas.lighthouse or call the Lighthouse Store at (989) 362-5658.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is located five miles north of Harrisville. Sturgeon Point received its name because of the seven to 10 foot long sturgeon fish that once spawned along the point's reefs. These reefs, halfway between Saginaw Bay's Point AuSable and Thunder Bay Lighthouse, are among the farthest reaching shoals on Lake Huron. Between the years 1828 and 1934 alone, there were 27 shipwrecks in the vicinity of Sturgeon Point. Even today, the reefs continue to present a navigational hazard.

The need for a lighthouse and life saving station, established in 1876, arose from that reef, which extends one and a half miles into Lake Huron at Sturgeon Point, just north of Harrisville. The United States Lighthouse Service began construction of the tower and attached light keeper's home in 1869 at a cost of $15,000. The lighthouse tower stands 70 feet in height and is 16 feet in diameter at the base. It houses the original 3.5 order Fresnel lens, made in Paris, France. The lighthouse keeper's home is connected to the tower through an 11-foot passageway, which allowed the keeper to tend the light without going outside in inclement weather. The residence includes eight rooms in the two-story dwelling.

Depending on seasonal water levels, visitors can walk onto Sturgeon Point for several hundred feet. Miles and miles of beach invite adventurers to explore the natural habitat of the Lake Huron shoreline. In addition to several varieties of sea grasses, primrose, goldenrod, Queen Anne's lace, wild strawberry and yarrow abound. For animal enthusiasts, several types of gulls, cormorant, killdeer, loons and an occasional bald eagle can generally be spotted.

Also on site is the Bailey School, a one-room schoolhouse originally operated in Mikado, a small community approximately 10 miles southwest of the lighthouse. The Sturgeon Point grounds also feature remains of Lake Huron shipwrecks and the historical society operates a gift shop featuring marine memorabilia. The Sturgeon Point Maritime Museum grounds are open to the public year-round. The lighthouse keeper's home and Bailey School are open Memorial Day through September from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The lighthouse tower is open from noon to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The lighthouse gift shop is open seasonally and can be reached by calling (989) 724-6297. The lighthouse and grounds are overseen by the Alcona Historical Society.

Visiting Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse is a trip for the more adventurous, as it is to be done by air plane or boat. It is located three miles east-northeast of the north point of Thunder Bay and 13 miles from the harbor in Alpena. It was the third lighthouse built in Lake Huron. Construction began in 1831 and officially began its aid to navigation in the spring of 1832. Rising water levels brought doom to the tower and stone filled timber cribs were built to help fortify the tower from the lapping waves. In 1857 the tower was fortified and 50 feet were added to the top of the tower. In 1868 the lighthouse was destroyed and a new lighthouse was built. With shipwrecks continuing along the island's shoreline, a life saving station was built three eighths of a mile west of the lighthouse in 1876. The light was automated in 1983. Restoration efforts are underway by the Thunder Bay Island Preservation Society, P.O. Box 212, Alpena, Mich. 49707. Visits to the lighthouse are available during the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival which is held the second weekend in October in Alpena. www.lighthousefestival.org for more information.

Middle Island Lighthouse is another challenge to visit and must be done by air plane or boat. Located approximately 6.5 miles north of Potter Point, north of Thunder Bay and Alpena, Middle Island received its name because it is located midway between the North Point of Thunder Bay and Presque Isle. It is surrounded by shoals on three sides where the water is less than six feet deep. A life saving station came before the lighthouse in 1881. Construction on the double keeper's quarters, tower and fog signal building did not begin until 1904. The Middle Island Lighthouse began service to navigation with its 70 foot tower and red fourth order Fresnel lens in June 1905. In 1928, with electricity flowing to the island, the red lens was changed to a green third order lens.

The Middle Island Lighthouse Keepers Association is restoring and preserving the lighthouse. Middle Island Boat Tours takes visitors on a three and a half hour trip in which an island nature walk and tour of the restoration effort is featured. For more information, contact the Middle Island Bed and Breakfast, 5671 Rockport Road, Middle Island, Alpena, MI 49707. Visits to the lighthouse are also available during the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival which is held the second weekend in October in Alpena. Visit www.lighthousefestival.org for more information.

Nestled in a stand of cedar, the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse allows visitor's a look at the life of a lighthouse keeper and a climb in the 30 foot tall tower, which was built separate from the keeper's dwelling. Mariners found refuge during rough seas and a place to restock their supplies in the harbor at Presque Isle. Construction of the light began in 1839. After 27 years of service and with the lighthouse keeper's quarters falling in disrepair, a request was made to replace the light in a better location. Range lights were installed in 1870 and the New Presque Isle Lighthouse became operational in 1871.
The light was left vacant until 1897 when it was sold for $75. The original dwelling was destroyed and rebuilt. Electricity came to the lighthouse in 1965 and the tower was reactivated. The Stebins family owned the lighthouse and property from the late 1930s until it was sold to the state of Michigan many years later. For more information, contact the Presque Isle County Tourism Council (888) 854-9700 or www.presqueislemi.com or the Rogers City Chamber of Commerce at www.rogerscitychamber.com.

One mile north of the old light, the 113 foot tower of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse peaks over the trees. A two-story keeper's quarters are attached to the tower by a 16 foot passageway. In 1905 a second keeper's dwelling was constructed, but the position wasn't filled until 1909. In 1940 electricity and indoor plumbing make the keepers' lives easier. Automation came in 1970 and the light was abandoned. The property was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1998 to Presque Isle Township. The spacious grounds of the lighthouse are a quiet setting for picnics and tours of the keeper's quarters. The tower is also available for climbing. For more information, contact the Presque Isle County Tourism Council (888) 854-9700 or www.presqueislemi.com or the Rogers City Chamber of Commerce at www.rogerscitychamber.com.

Located north of Rogers City and roughly 30 miles south of Cheboygan just off the highway, Forty Mile Point Lighthouse presides over the sugar sand shoreline. Extensive beach walking, wading and swimming adventures abound. The lush, quiet grounds of Lighthouse Park are ripe for freighter viewing, picnics and a glimpse of history - 130 feet of the starboard side of the Joseph F. Fay - lies on the beach. Construction on this lighthouse began in 1896. The light was activated on April 30, 1897. Architecturally unique to other area lighthouses, this two and a half story brick building features a lantern room at the top of a square tower. The lighthouse is being restored under the guidance of the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society, P.O. Box 205, Rogers City, Mich. 49779. The grounds also feature the Glawe School house and Calcite Pilot House, where visitors can stand on the bridge of a freighter and view passing ships. The lighthouse is open Memorial Day weekend through mid-October 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Mondays. For more information, call (989) 785-2468 or see www.40milepointlighthouse.org.


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