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The Lighthouses of Presque Isle Michigan

Copyrighted photos & editing by William Lewis

Presque Isle has two lighthouses. One is the oldest surviving original lighthouse tower on the upper Great Lakes.

The newer working light tower is the tallest accessible to the public on any Great Lake. Each is open mid-May thru mid-October and may be climbed. They offer museums, picnic areas, playgrounds, trails to walk through the woods, beaches to comb and great photo opportunities!
New Lighthouse at PI

The New Lighthouse park is an ideal site for numerous activities ranging from education to recreation, or just peaceful relaxation.

Come Visit Us! Climb our lighthouse towers between May 15th and October 15th, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, weather permitting... High winds and thunderstorms force us to close the tower.

The New Presque Isle Lighthouse

July 15, 1870, Congress appropriated $28,000 for a "lake coast lighthouse at Presque Isle" one mile north of the harbor lighthouse, to be built on land reserved from the public domain in 1868 for a new light at a strategic location, the "turning point for all the navigation of the lake." An amount of $6,000 reserved from an earlier appropriation for rebuilding the Keeper's quarters at the 1840 Lighthouse, was instead diverted to build the first Keeper's dwelling at the new lighthouse.

Engineer O.M. Poe began work on the new light in 1870 shortly after the release of funds. Due to a short construction season on the Great Lakes and the many complexities of lighthouse construction, the Lighthouse Board did not believe the facility could be completed before the close of the year. However, the work was "unexpectedly completed" before the winter arrived and a Notice to Mariners of the lights establishment was transmitted on February 4, 1871. The new fixed light and 3rd-order Fresnel lens began operation at the opening of the 1871 navigation season.

Keeper at the Old Light starting in 1861, Patrick Garrity moved into his new quarters at the 1870 light. His wife, Mary, was officially appointed Assistant Keeper. When Patrick retired in 1891, son Thomas succeeded him and was Keeper of the 1870 Lighthouse for 44 years until he retired in 1935.

After $5,000 was appropriated in 1904, work on the second house began and was completed in September, 1905. In 1906, the first Keeper's dwelling was converted into two apartments for the assistant and staff. The new house then became the main residence of the complex. Now, through the generosity and efforts of the Presque Isle Township Museum Society and many friends, the 1905 House is being restored.

Originally, the Light Station contained several other buildings. Unfortunately, between 1950 and 1970 when they became obsolete or fell into disrepair, they were demolished by the Coast Guard.

The tower is a conical brick structure measuring 113 feet in height from its base to the top of the ventilator ball of the lantern. Year 2000 finds the historic 1870 3rd-order Fresnel lens still in its original place. It is 109 feet above the ground with a focal plane 123 feet above lake level at low water datum. A modern 1,000-watt halogen light has an intensity of 40,000 candlepower and an approximate horizontal range of 20 statute miles. The tower, 19 feet in diameter at the base, tapers to 12 feet at the lantern. It rests on its limestone base extending about nine and a half feet below ground.

The spiral stairway of iron railings and treads has 130 steps and six landings. A wood doorway in the watchroom at the top opens onto the iron gallery seen from the outside. Several rooms in the attached Keeper's quarters still retain their original plank floors and woodwork. Most of the windows still display the original glazing.

The Coast Guard Automated the beacon in 1970, eliminating the need to have a Keeper on the station. In 1973, the grounds were leased to Presque Isle Township to be used as a public park and recreation area. The 99-acre property, including its buildings, were transferred from United States ownership to the Township on June 16, 1998.

The history of the Presque Isle Lighthouse as an active coastal facility continues today. Its 1870 Fresnel lens, which has been a guiding beacon to both domestic and foreign maritime traffic for 132 years, was taken down for repairs in the fall of 2003. It is hoped the lens will be returned to the tower, its proper place of prominence.

For more information regarding the status of the Fresnel lens, click here.

New Lighthouse at PI New Lighthouse at PI New Lighthouse at PI New Lighthouse at PI
New Presque Isle Lighthouse View of Keeper's House
from atop lighthouse
Fresnel lens 1905 Keeper's House

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Copyrighted photos & editing by William Lewis

Early 19th century Presque Isle Harbor was described as "the first fishing station on the Lake Huron shore north of Saginaw Bay." The spring of 1840 would have found a wharf, store and frame dwelling, a log barn, several shanties and this lighthouse under construction.

The federal government recognized the need for a lighthouse to guide vessels safely into this harbor of refuge. In July, 1838, $5,000 was appropriated for the project. Materials were brought in by boat and the construction was done by Jeremiah Moors of Detroit. The tower wall was built 4 feet thick at the base and great blocks of stone were carved to form the circular stairway to the top. Impressive engineering, even by modern standards, went into the design of the tower. A revolving 4th-order Fresnel lens was installed and officially lit in September of 1840.

The Old Lighthouse earned a reputation of reliability and served for 30 years. In 1870, a taller lighthouse was built a mile to the north replacing the Old which was left abandoned and neglected, its light removed and perhaps used at Point Iroquois Light on Lake Superior.

New Lighthouse at PI
The 1840 buildings were purchased privately from the United States in 1897 and sold several years later to Bliss Stebbins. From the 1930s thru the 60s, Francis B. Stebbins and his family made it a project to restore the old cottage and tower. Many antiques, also collected by the family, now provide authentic glimpses of daily life during the early years of lighthouse service.

On April 11, 1973, the 1840 Lighthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995, the property went from private ownership to Presque Isle Township.

The Hands-on Museum is unique and just the right size to offer something of interest to each visitor. Here you can learn to "shoot the sun" with an old brass sextant or blow our foghorns and ring our bells! If you like shipwrecks, we can tell you some of the local stories and show you many interesting artifacts. And, of course, you must climb the tower itself...That's the "high-light" of the tour!

Old Lighthouse at PI Old Lighthouse Propeller at Entrance Old Lighthouse Ghost
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse Red Propeller at
entrance to lighthouse
Comet Hale-Bopp shines
and is watched by
the Ghost of the Old
Click on the pictures for a larger image!

Photos courtesy of

William Lewis

For more information on the history of the Presque Isle Lights, see http://www.terrypepper.com/lights/huron/oldpresqisl/oldpresqisl.htm

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