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 Presque Isle (New), MI    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.
Description: Presque Isle Lighthouse was established in 1840 to serve both as a coastal light and as a harbor light, but when its keeper’s dwelling needed to be rebuilt in 1868, the Lighthouse Board decided that it would be better to use the allocated funds toward building separate lights to perform these functions.

On March 3, 1869, Congress appropriated $7,500 for “range lights to mark the channel into Presque Isle Harbor” and followed this up with $28,000 on July 15, 1870 for “a lake coast light-house at Presque Isle.” The lighthouse tender Warrington delivered the necessary material for the new coastal light during the summer of 1870 to its selected site at the northern end of Presque Isle Peninsula. A majestic, circular, brick tower, which measures 113.5 feet tall, was built atop a 9.67-foot limestone foundation and linked to a brick, 1.5-story keeper’s dwelling by a covered passageway. The walls of the whitewashed tower taper from a diameter of nineteen feet, three inches to twelve feet, four inches, and a circular cast-iron stairway winds up the tower to the decagonal lantern room, where a third-order, Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens was installed.

Presque Isle Lighthouse in 1913 with two dwellings
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Patrick Garrity would had been keeper of the old Presque Isle Lighthouse since 1861, moved his wife and five children a mile north in time to display the fixed white light from the new lighthouse at the opening of navigation in 1871.

The Lighthouse Board recommended a fog signal for Presque Isle as early 1870, but funds were not available until a $5,500 appropriation was passed on March 2, 1889. Materials and a working party were delivered to Presque Isle on July 13, 1890 by the steam-barge Ruby, and a forty-two by twenty-two-foot fog signal building was erected that summer to house a ten-inch steam whistle. The outside walls and roof of the building were corrugated iron, while the inside was lined with sheet iron. A tramway for delivering the coal needed for the steam fog signal was constructed from the boathouse on the northern tip of the peninsula, to the tower, and then east to the fog signal building on the shore. Also in 1890, a brick oil house capable of storing 360 gallons was built.

The old iron smokestacks for the fog-signal plants were taken down in 1903 and replaced with a single brick chimney. That same year, a barn was built using logs found on the lighthouse property. A powerful air diaphone fog signal, that was capable of being promptly started at the approach of fog, replaced the steam whistles on September 27, 1926.

In 1902, the Lighthouse Board suggested that an additional dwelling be built at the station:

This is an isolated position, there being no town within 30 miles, and no other house except that of Presque Isle Harbor Range within 5 miles, so that additional accommodations for dwelling purposes cannot be rented. The present dwelling at this station is adapted for but one family. This station marks the turning point for vessels bound up and down the lake. The care of the steam fog signal makes the presence of an assistant keeper necessary. Hence, an additional dwelling should be provided for the use of that assistant keeper. The dwelling can be built upon the light-house site.

As Patrick H. Garrity, Jr. was serving as first assistant to his father at this time, a new dwelling was not critical, but Congress provided $5,000 for its construction on April 28, 1904. By the end of June 1905, the walls of the first floor of the dwelling were up and the second-floor joists were in place. The new eight-room, gambrel-roofed residence, built 100 feet south of the lighthouse, was completed on September 15, 1905 and subsequently occupied by the head keeper. When a second assistant keeper was added to the station in 1909, he was obligated to share the old residence with the other assistant and his family.

On September 25, 1912, the intensity of the light at Presque Isle was increased by changing its illuminant from oil to incandescent oil vapor.

Aerival view of Presque Isle Lighthouse, note barn
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1891, Thomas Garrity, who was serving as keeper of the nearby Presque Isle Harbor Range Lights, swapped positions with his father. Thomas remained in charge of Presque Isle Lighthouse until his retirement on February 1, 1935, and during his lengthy tenure, he was awarded the lighthouse efficiency pennant at least three times for having the model station in the district.

Elmer Byrnes was transferred from Point Iroquois Lighthouse to take the place of Thomas Garrity. When the Coast Guard took control of the country’s lighthouse in 1939, Byrnes elected to remain a civilian keeper. Betty Byrnes enjoyed her childhood growing up at lighthouses. During her time at Presque Isle, Betty and her siblings hatched a scheme to earn a little spending money. The Byrnes children decided to hang out in the station’s parking lot and when tourists would arrive after tour hours, they would say it was a shame the lighthouse was closed, but that just this once they would take them up in the tower. The children made decent money in tips, but when their father discovered the source of their new-found wealth, he grounded them for a week. Accepting gratuities for tours was strictly forbidden, and Keeper Byrnes was afraid he could lose his job.

It didn’t take long before the entrepreneurial Betty found another revenue stream. A skilled angler, Betty started hanging out at the docks on Grand Lake offering her local knowledge and live bait to summer visitors hoping to catch their limit. Betty proved to be a popular guide and helped land some large fish.

During a violent storm in the spring of 1936, the Byrnes family was awakened by the loud throbbing of a diesel-powered ship. As the main shipping channel was far offshore, the ship was either off course or in trouble. It proved to be the latter, and a nearly submerged grain carrier soon rounded the point and entered North Bay. A few days later, hydraulic pumps were used to transfer the ship’s wet grain to shore, where the mounds of free feed soon attracted all kinds of ducks and birds. Warm weather caused the grain to ferment, and the Byrnes children discovered a new form of entertainment. “We teenagers,” Betty recalled, “watched with amusement as the birds reacted to the combination of high-proof alcohol and the mating season in almost human ways.”

In the 1950s, the Coast Guard constructed a concrete block garage on the grounds and removed the fog signal building and oil house, which were no longer needed. The station was automated in 1970 and leased to Presque Isle Township in 1973.

After visiting new Presque Isle Lighthouse and feeling it could use a little attention, Dan McGee convinced Presque Isle Township to let him look after the grounds. Dan soon realized a formal organization was needed to care for the property so he and a few friends formed the Presque Isle Lighthouse Historical Society. With his wife Marianne, Dan worked at the lighthouse from 1979 to 1995, giving tours and running a gift shop. He also built a fascinating steam-whistle display in a gazebo on the lighthouse grounds. Upon learning that a Coast Guard admiral was giving a speech in the area, the historical society sent a delegation to solicit his help in restoring the lighthouse. Not long thereafter, the Coast Guard allocated $100,000 to refurbish the tower’s brickwork. The lighthouse, the tallest on Lake Huron, was turned over to Presque Isle Township in 1998.

In May 2003, the Coast Guard removed the deteriorated third-order Fresnel lens from the lantern room. An $87,500 grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was used along with admission funds from the lighthouse to hire a company to refurbish the lens in 2005. When the work was done, the township wanted the lens placed back in the lantern room, where it had been safe for 130 years, but the Coast Guard thought it best if the lens were placed on display. Michigan’s senators attempted to pass legislation that would allow the lens to return to the lantern room, but instead a bill signed by President Obama in October 2010 required the Coast Guard to conduct a study to determine the future of the lens. Submitted to Congress a year later, the study concluded that due to cost and historical significance issues the lens could not be placed back in the tower. After having been in storage for nearly a decade, the lens was placed on display at the lighthouse in late 2012.

Head Keepers: Patrick Garrity (1871 – 1891), Thomas Garrity (1891 – 1935), Elmer C. Byrnes (1935 – 1954).

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.
  3. “The Second Lighthouse of My Life,” Betty Byrnes Bacon, The Keeper’s Log, Summer 1990.

Location: Located at the end of the Presque Isle Peninsula, which is between Rogers City and Alpena.
Latitude: 45.35647
Longitude: -83.49227

For a larger map of Presque Isle (New) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Alpena, travel north on Highway 23 for 10.4 miles and then turn right on Grand Lake Road. After 3.5 miles, you will need to turn right to stay on Grand Lake Road (there is a sign that will direct you to the Presque Isle Lighthouses). New Presque Isle Lighthouse is located at the end of Grand Lake Road.

From Rogers City, travel south on Highway 23 14.5 miles to County Highway 638. Follow Highway 638 until it ends and turn left onto Grand Lake Road. New Presque Isle Lighthouse is located at the end of Grand Lake Road.

New Presque Isle Lighthouse houses a gift shop and is open for climbing from early May through October, seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, you can reach the lighthouse at (989) 595-9917. The adjacent 1905 keeper's dwelling houses a museum that is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. During September and October, the museum is open on weekends only, as volunteer staffing permits. The museum can be reached at (989) 595-5419.

The lighthouse is owned by Presque Isle Township and managed by Presque Isle Township Museum Society. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open in season.

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