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 Middle Island, MI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Overnight lodging available.
Description: Middle Island is so named because it is situated almost exactly midway between Thunder Bay Island and Presque Isle Harbor. The island is nearly a mile long and five-eighths of a mile wide and affords a lee with good holding ground in all winds on its south side. A lighthouse was established on Thunder Bay Island in 1832 and one at the entrance to Presque Isle Harbor in 1840. While these two lights almost covered the intervening twenty-five miles, the Lighthouse Board still felt it was prudent to place a light and fog signal on Middle Island. In its 1896 annual report, the Lighthouse Board made the following argument for these navigational aids:
A light and fog signal are now needed here both in order to make available the harbor of refuge behind Middle Island, the only one in the vicinity having sufficient depth of water for the modern deep-draft lake vessels, and to mark a turning point in the regular course of vessels bound up or down the coast. …This it is estimated can be done for $25,000, and it is recommended that an appropriation of this amount be made therefor.

Middle Island Light Station in 1949
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Lighthouse Board repeated its request each year until Congress finally passed an act on March 3, 1903, appropriating $25,000 for the project. A deed for 10.2 acres on the east side of the island and 0.27 acres on the opposite side of the island for the boat house was finalized on June 23, 1903. The contractors selected for the work arrived on the island on June 11, 1904, and the station was finished roughly a year later.

A seventy-six-foot-tall, buff-brick tower was built seventy-five feet from the nearest high water mark and 375 feet from the keepers’ duplex. The tower tapers from a diameter of eighteen feet at its base to twelve feet, eight inches below its cornice and rests atop concrete piers that extend four feet below ground. A circular, cast-iron stairway, with three landings, winds up the tower to the decagonal lantern room, where a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed to produce a fixed red light.

The two-story, double dwelling was built of red brick and features six rooms in each of its apartments. A frame woodshed and two redbrick privies were located behind the duplex for the convenience of the keepers and their families. Cement walks link the dwelling to the tower, located to the southeast, and to the hip-roofed, redbrick fog signal building, situated 265 feet northwest of the duplex. The fog signal building originally measured forty by twenty-three-and-a-half feet, but a roughly nine-by-six-foot room was later added to house a hoisting engine used for a landing that extended 175 feet out from the fog signal building to a depth of three feet of water.

The station’s ten-inch steam whistle was manufactured by Optenberg & Sonneman of Cheboygan, Michigan and produced a three-second blast every twenty seconds when needed. Water for its boilers was drawn from the lake by steam injector.

The light and fog signal were placed in operation on June 1, 1905, by Keeper Patrick Garraty, who had been serving for fifteen years as his father’s first assistant at nearby Presque Isle Lighthouse. A brick oil house, capable of storing 500 gallons, was completed during the summer of 1905. The intensity of the light was increased on November 4, 1914 by changing the illuminant to incandescent oil vapor. The intensity was further increased in 1938, when the light was electrified and its characteristic was changed to isophase green with alternating five-second periods of light and dark. A compressed air diaphone, which eliminated the start-up required by the steam whistle, was installed in 1931.

Light Lists indicate that sometime between 1951 and 1957, the tower’s daymark was changed from its natural buff color to white with a black band in the middle. At some later time, the black band was changed to red.

The station was de-staffed in October 1961, and in 1972, eight acres of Middle Island Light Station, everything but the tower and two acres around it, were transferred to Alpena Country by the federal government for park and recreation use. A local group started working on the abandoned property in the early 1980s, but when the magnitude of the effort required to restore the structures was realized, the parcel was given back to the government.

In July 1989, Marvin Theut became the new owner of the duplex and fog signal building after being the highest bidder in a sealed-bid auction, and the following month, two of Marv’s sons and two other men went out to the island to board up the duplex. The lake was calm when they ventured out with three boats that morning, but later that afternoon, four-foot waves started breaking on the island’s rocky shore. As they were leaving the island, their two rowboats swamped, nearly drowning one man. They wisely decided to re-anchor the motorboat and remain on the island. Not long thereafter the anchor line snapped, and the boat joined them on shore. A passing Coast Guard vessel spotted the wrecked boat, and, after summoning the men out of the duplex with its horn, it radioed in a helicopter to take them to safety. The Theuts had quickly learned that restoring an offshore station was not going to be an easy task.

Middle Island Lighthouse Keepers Association was formed by Marv Theut as a non-profit corporation in 1992 to continue the rehabilitation of the duplex and fog signal building, and in 2001, the fog signal build, branded as the “Keeper’s Lodge,” opened to overnight guests.

Besides looking after Middle Island Lighthouse, Marv Theut also co-founded the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival, which has been held in Alpena every October since 1996. During the festival in 2002, a man showed up bearing a panel from Middle Island’s Fresnel lens. It turns out that this man, as a seventeen-year-old in 1975, broke into the lighthouse with some friends and removed the panel. While one panel is back home, the whereabouts of the rest of the lens remains a mystery.

A Notice of Availability, dated June 28, 2010, announced that Middle Island Lighthouse was excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard and would be made available at no cost to eligible entities, who were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest. On October 4, 2011, U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow announced that three Michigan lighthouses, South Haven Pierhead Lighthouse, Middle Island Lighthouse, and Waugoshance Lighthouse, would be transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to local preservation groups. Middle Island Lighthouse was awarded to the Middle Island Lightkeepers Association, Inc., a non-profit that has leased the historic tower from the Coast Guard for more than twenty years.

“Michigan’s lighthouses have long been an unmistakable marker of Michigan’s identity,” Levin said. “Although they are no longer used as navigation tools, they are a testament to our state’s maritime history and important sources of tourism. Under the care of these local historical societies, these three lighthouses will be enjoyed by generations of future Michiganians and visitors.”

Head Keepers: Patrick H. Garraty, Jr. (1905 – at least 1921), Michael Nolan ( ), Stanley W. Clark (1934 – at least 1940).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Lake Carriers’ Association, various years.
  3. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  4. “Mystery of Middle Island’s Missing Lens,” Timothy Harris, Lighthouse Digest, April, 2002.

Location: Located on Middle Island, 2.5 miles offshore, and roughly 10 miles north of Alpena.
Latitude: 45.19321
Longitude: -83.32109

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


Travel Instructions: The non-lighthouse side of Middle Island can be seen from the Rockport boat ramp. To reach the boat ramp, travel 9.4 miles north from Alpena on Highway 23 to Rockport Road. Take Rockport Road east 2.2 miles where it will turn north and lead 1.5 miles to the boat ramp.

You can visit the lighthouse on volunteer trips to the island offered on summer weekends or even spend a night in the fog signal building. Call Captain Mike Theut at (989) 884-2722 for more information.

The lighthouse is owned by Middle Island Lightkeepers Association, Inc.. The rest of the light station is owned by Mike Theut and Middle Island Lightkeepers Association. Grounds and outbuildings open to overnight visitors and tours, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Middle Island Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
We stayed in the fog signal building in September 2001 before it was officially opened for overnight guests. It was great to have the island to ourselves for a day. As I remember, about the only thing that wasn't quite finished was the outdoor shower. While we could shower, the water was not heated, and we were fully exposed to any passing vessels.....we thus had two reasons to keep the showers short. I definitely recommend spending a night or two on the island if you have the chance.

See our List of Lighthouses in Michigan

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.