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 Sturgeon Point, MI    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Boo! Lighthouse haunted.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: A lighthouse was built on Tawas Point, near the northern entrance of Saginaw Bay, in 1857, and one was erected on Thunder Bay Island in 1832, but these lights were unable to fully illuminate the roughly fifty-five-mile gap between them.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse in 1904
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1866, the Lighthouse Board proposed that a lighthouse be erected near the midpoint of this gap.

Sturgeon Point is about half way between Point au Sable, the north cape of Saginaw bay, and Thunder Bay Island light-house; is somewhat out of the track of the general commerce of the lake, but vessels frequently, from various causes, get out of the direct course, and a light-house at this point would enable them to take a new departure and shorten the long stretch across the mouth of Saginaw bay. To build a light-house at this place an appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars is recommended.

Congress appropriated the requested $15,000 on March 2, 1867, and efforts began to secure a title to the desired parcel on Sturgeon Point. Plans for the lighthouse were approved July 6, 1868, and after a deed for just over sixty acres on the point was formalized on September 22, 1868, work commenced the following spring. Excavation for the lighthouse was made at a location roughly 100 feet from the shoreline, and a limestone block foundation, which is seven-and-a-half feet high and extends four feet above the surface of the ground, was laid for a conical tower with attached keeper’s dwelling.

The circular brick tower gently tapers from a diameter of sixteen feet at its base to ten feet at the lantern room gallery, while its walls decrease from a thickness of four-and-a-half feet to eighteen inches over the same distance. The tower stands seventy-feet, nine inches tall, and its decagonal, cast-iron lantern room, which came from a lighthouse in Oswego, New York, is reached by a spiral stairway with three landings that winds up the tower. Four windows, one facing each of the cardinal points of a compass, provide light for the tower’s interior. A third-and-a-half-order, Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens was mounted atop a cast-iron pedestal in the lantern room to produce a fixed white light that could be seen for up to fifteen miles.

Lighthouse and Life Saving Station on Sturgeon Point
Photograph courtesy U.S. Archives of Michigan
An eleven-foot-long covered passageway connects the tower to the two-story, brick dwelling, which had eight rooms for the keeper and his family. An iron door was installed at the entrance to the tower from the passageway to prevent fire from spreading between the tower and dwelling, both of which were painted white.

The lighthouse was completed in early November 1870, and its light was scheduled to be exhibited that month. However, Perley Silverthorn, the first keeper, was late in arriving to the lighthouse, and it was decided to postpone the inaugural lighting until the opening of navigation the following spring.

In 1876, a lifesaving station was established adjacent to the lighthouse. Perley Silverthorn was removed from his position as keeper of the lighthouse in 1873, but he was back on the point three years later as the first keeper of the new lifesaving station.

On August 28, 1880, the side-wheel steamer Marine City was making its way from Mackinaw to Detroit with 160 people on board, when it caught fire off Sturgeon Point. As smoke and flames were emanating from the upper deck near the steamer’s smokestack, passengers frantically gathered on either side of the main deck. The tugs Vulcan and Grayling were fortunately within sight and rushed to the aid of the burning steamer along with the Sturgeon Point life saving crew, under the direction of Keeper Silverthron. Thomas Hackett, captain of the Vulcan and responsible for saving most of the passengers, was born at Bois Blanc Lighthouse, where his father was lighthouse keeper. Twenty people, many of whom panicked and jumped from the burning steamer before help arrived, perished in the accident. The rudder salvaged from the wreckage of the Marine City is now on display at Sturgeon Point Lighthouse.

In 1885, five cribs were built and positioned radially along the shoreline, as the lake had crept to within forty feet of the tower and was coming nearer with every storm. Each wooden crib was eight feet wide, five feet deep, roughly sixty feet long, and was filled with stone and gravel. A fifty-six-foot-long breakwater was also constructed to prevent the station’s stable from being swept into the lake. By the following year, the accretion of material between the cribs was considerable. Two additional cribs were put in place a few years later.

Aerial view of Sturgeon Point
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The tower’s Fresnel lens was somehow damaged in 1887. A news lens was installed in the tower, and the old lens was shipped to the general lighthouse depot on Staten Island for repair. Whether or not the original third-and-a-half-order, Henry-Lepaute lens was ever returned to the lighthouse, it is known that a lens of that description was in the lantern room in 1910 and remains there today.

In 1893, a brick-lined circular iron oil house, with a capacity of seventy-two, five-gallon oil cans was built 100 feet south of the lighthouse. Also that year, a brick cistern was added beneath the dwelling’s living room, and the conductor pipes from the residence were redirected to feed the cistern.

On April 15, 1913, the characteristic of the light was changed from fixed white to a white flash every three seconds through the introduction of an automated acetylene lighting apparatus. Louis Cardy was hired as keeper of the lighthouse in 1882, and he served for thirty-two years until his passing in November 1913 at the age of eighty-one. With the light now automated, a new keeper was not appointed. Rather, the coastguardsmen at the adjacent station were assigned to keep an eye on the light.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse had fallen into serious disrepair by the time the Alcona Historical Society obtained a lease on the property in 1982. The station’s buildings were restored as part of a three-year volunteer project, and they are now run as a maritime museum and historical site. Under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, Sturgeon Point Lighthouse was awarded to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 2005, but the property is managed and interpreted by the Alcona Historical Society.

Head Keepers: Perley Silverthorn (1869 – 1873), Noah T. Farr (1873 – 1876), John Pasque (1876 – 1882), Louis Cardy, Sr. (1882 – 1913).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Lake Carriers’ Association, various years.

Location: Located four miles north of Harrisville on the shore of Lake Huron.
Latitude: 44.7127
Longitude: -83.2727

For a larger map of Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Harrisville, travel 2.6 miles north on Highway 23 and then turn right on Lakeshore Drive. Follow Lakeshore Drive for 1.2 miles and then turn right on Point Road. Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is about a mile down Point Road on the left hand side.

If you are coming from Alpena, turn left onto Alcona Road from Highway 23, and follow it for 1.1 miles to Lakeshore Lake. Follow Lakeshore Drive for 3.2 miles and turn left on Point Road. Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is about a mile down Point Road on the left hand side.

The keeper's house, which is now a maritime museum, and the tower are open to the public during the summer. For hours, click here. The grounds are open all year. You can reach the lighthouse during operating hours at (989) 727-4703.

The lighthouse is owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Alcona Historical Society. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open in season.

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