|Ludington North Pierhead, MI|
Description: Named after the French Roman Catholic missionary Jacques Marquette, who explored the Great lakes in the 1600s, the Pere Marquette River is nearly sixty-four miles long and expands into Pere Marquette Lake just before reaching Lake Michigan. Jacques Marquette died near the mouth of the river in 1675, and a monument on the peninsula dividing Lake Michigan and Pere Marquette Lake now marks his grave.
James Ludington loaned money to George W. Ford in 1854 for a sawmill operation on the Pere Marquette River in what was then the Village of Pere Marquette. Ford defaulted on the loan in 1859, and Ludington took over operation of the sawmill. Ludington built a boarding house for his sawmill employees in 1866, followed the next year by a large variety store. On March 22, 1873, the Village of Pere Marquette was chartered as the City of Ludington, and many of the city streets, like James, Lewis, William, Robert, Charles, Emily, Lavina, and Delia, were named after members of the Ludington family.
The light’s first keeper, William Gerard lived in an old house during his service while the Lighthouse Board made annual requests for funds to provide a proper dwelling. In December 1876, the pierhead crib and light were washed away during a heavy gale. The tower was rebuilt in the spring of the following year, and then moved 140 feet to the end of the extended pier in 1880. At this time 140 feet of elevated walkway were built to allow the keeper to reach the light at all times. On November 30, 1889, a tubular lantern light was established atop a post at the extremity of the pier to form a range with the wooden tower.
In 1892, a 754-foot-long elevated walkway was built on the south pier, using 440 feet of a walkway relocated from Michigan City and 314 feet built with new materials. On August 18, 1894, Congress appropriated $5,500 for a steam fog signal at Ludington, and a ten-inch steam whistle went into operation on January 31, 1895. The fog signal was housed in an iron-sheathed frame building built on a timber substructure and was protected from the force of the lake by a forty-eight-foot-long breakwater. The following changes, as reported by the Lighthouse Board in 1899, were made to the pierhead light:
The beacon was moved close to the signal house and a covered way built between them. The whistle was moved from the fog signal building and placed in front of a sound deflector on the front wall of the beacon. The sound deflector was again moved from the front of the beacon and placed on the roof of the signal house at a height sufficient to clear the dome of the lantern, as the former location interfered with the operation of the whistle.
After years and years of requests, Congress finally provided funds for a double dwelling for the keepers on July 1, 1898. Up to this point, the keeper had been given an annual housing allowance, which in 1890 was $60. Work on the brick dwelling, which had six rooms in each of its two apartments, began in May 1900 and was completed later that year.
Major changes for the harbor at Ludington started in 1907 when Congress authorized the expenditure of $839,000 for arrowhead breakwaters. Work on the breakwaters began in 1908, and in 1913, the Bureau of Lighthouses started requesting funds for a new breakwater light and fog signal for Ludington, which was “more important than any other port on the east shore of Lake Michigan” due to important car ferry lines that crossed Lake Michigan from its harbor.
The timber breakwaters were completed in 1914, but before this time acetylene lights had been established on concrete columns to mark the outer end of both the north breakwater and the south breakwater. This photograph, taken in March 1916, shows how difficult it was to tend the breakwater lights during the winter months. A thirty-one-foot-tall, steel, skeletal tower was mounted atop the base of the old concrete tower on the north breakwater in 1916.
Funds still had not been allocated for a permanent light and fog signal to mark the breakwaters by 1922, when it was noted that the “entrance between the breakwaters must be found by feeling around in the fog,” as the existing light and fog signal on the southern pier were 1,500 feet inside the entrance to the outer harbor. This truth was made clear on February 10, 1922 when Pere Marquette Car Ferry No. 18 crashed into the north breakwater, destroying a twenty-foot section.
The necessary money was finally provided, and a light and fog signal were placed in commission at the end of the north breakwater on December 30, 1924. By this time, the timber breakwater had been replaced by a concrete structure. The lighthouse is a fifty-five-foot, steel-plate tower, that was originally equipped with a fourth-order lens and a diaphone fog signal operated by remote control from shore through a cable that ran along the breakwater. A backup oil engine electric generator was located near the old double dwelling, which was relocated from the south side of the harbor to the north side. The skeletal tower from the south pier was moved to the north pier, and a temporary thirty-one-foot steel, skeletal tower that had been used on the north breakwater was relocated to the south pier, from which the decayed fog signal building was removed.
As additional aids to mariners, a radiobeacon was established at the station in 1927, and an auxiliary fog signal was placed on the north pierhead. A thrity-one-and-half-foot steel tower was placed at the end of the south breakwater in August 1939 after the concrete tower there was damaged by the car ferry City of Flint on January 22, 1939 and then toppled over on March 15.
The modern steel tower on the north breakwater has a unique profile that allows it to cut through crashing waves like the prow of a ship. The fourth-order Fresnel lens, manufactured by the MacBeth Evans Glass Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, served in the lighthouse until October 17, 1995, when it was replaced with a modern beacon and loaned to White Pine Village, where it was on display for several years. After a restoration in 2016, the lens was moved to the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
In 2005, the Ludington North Pierhead Lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Following the review process, the National Park Service transferred the lighthouse to the City of Ludington in May of 2006. Shortly thereafter, the city signed an agreement with Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association, an organization that will maintain the lighthouse and open it to the public.
Located at the end of the north pier in Ludington. The fourth-order Fresnel lens used in the tower is on display in the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
The fourth-order Fresnel lens used in the tower is on display in the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.