Chasing Lighthouses

When my husband and I moved to Michigan last fall we were anxious for spring to come so we could explore all the lighthouses in Michigan.

That story is told in:

Michigan’s Lighthouses

However, when spring came so did the rainy, cloudy days most of the Midwest has been experiencing.  We did have one beautiful weekend in May and we made a visit to Big Red Lighthouse in Holland, Mi.

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Big Red – Most Photographed Lighthouse in Michigan

While there we enjoyed the tulips that were everywhere in the town.  (If you ever get a chance to come to Holland for the Tulip Festival, take it.  You will not regret it.)

Welkom to Tulip Time

Sitting in our new home wishing, praying for some sunny days, finally we woke up Saturday to a perfect summer day.  Grabbing our camera, our Michigan travel book, we headed west to Lake Michigan.

When we take road trips we do not follow the beaten path.  For the most part we stay off the interstates and take all the side roads.  It takes longer but the trip is much more interesting.  Taking the back roads, we never know what we will see that will catch our eyes.  Many times we have found many interesting places that those who only travel the interstate never know exist.

We do take our GPS in case we get completely lost or if we get tired and want to find the quickest way to our destination.  But our own GPS is to just head in the direction of our journey’s end and “follow our nose” until we reach our target.

Our first stop on Saturday’s trip was the beach at Muskegon.  After the rainy, damp spring, what a sight to see the white sand the beautiful lake with the bright blue sky.

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Walking along the sand, we headed to the lighthouse there.  Muskegon’s first lighthouse was built in 1851.  In 1870 a house was built for the light keeper.  This replaced the 1851 lighthouse and was topped with a cast-iron lantern room for a light.  In time a fog horn structure was built with an elevated walk to connect the lighthouse with the fog horn.

In 1903 the existing wooden building was replaced with a conical steel tower, the Muskegon South Pierhead Light.  In 1929 the Muskegon South Breakwater Light was built.

Like many of these historic lighthouses over time they have deteriorated.  The Federal Government awarded both the Muskegon South Pierhead and the South Breakwater lighthouses to the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy in June.  They have both been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The US Coast Guard still is in charge of the lights at the top and the fog signal.

Tours are granted but since my knees are old and arthritic, we chose to just view from the beach, but I can imagine what a view it would be to climb to the top.

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Muskegon South Pierhead Light

 

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Muskegon South Breakwater Light

We drove on south to Grand Haven to the see the two lights there.  The two lighthouses are connected by a lighted catwalk and we were looking forward to taking a walk along the pier.  However, when we arrived at the beach, the traffic was terrible.  We drove and drove but could find no parking space.  Again, because of my knees, we could not park too far away and walk down to the lighthouses.

So, disappointed, we tried to take some pictures from a distance.

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I wish we could have been closer because the outer light from a distance looks a lot like Big Red Lighthouse.

We thought we would go back during the week when maybe the crowds were be smaller but my Michigan friends tell me it is a popular spot.  So – we will just settle for a look from a distance and move on to our next adventure chasing lighthouses.

 

 

Big Red – Most Photographed Lighthouse in Michigan

When my husband and I moved to Michigan last fall I was fascinated by the many lighthouses that are in the state.  In a blog I wrote then I said I was looking forward to spring/summer when we could begin exploring these lighthouses.

Michigan’s Lighthouses

Well – that time has come.

This past weekend we visited the most photographed lighthouse in the state – Big Red.   Located at the entrance of a channel that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Macatawa.   I was surprised at how small it actually was.  Thinking of lighthouses as being very tall, this one looked more like a big barn with a tower for the light.

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The lighthouse has a great history.   The area was settled by the Dutch in 1847 on the shore of Lake Macatawa.  Led by Rev. Albertus C Van Raalte a band of Hollanders founded the city of Holland.

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When they settled here they realized they needed access to Lake Michigan from Black Lake (now called Macatawa) to help their community grow and flourish.  The entrance to the lake from Lake Michigan was blocked with sandbars and silt.

After petitioning the government for help but getting none, the citizens took matters into their own hands and cut a channel that was deep enough for barges to use.  Finally, in 1866, Congress made an appropriation for work on the harbor taking over improvement of the harbor in 1867.

The government gave funds of $4,000 in 1870 to build the first lighthouse.  A small, square structure on top was a lantern deck with a ten-window lantern room.  The lighthouse keeper lived on the shore near the lighthouse and would carry his lighted oil lamp along a catwalk where he would place the lamp under a lens or magnifying device.  He would use a 18 inch fish horn to warn incoming boats when the fog hide

 

When fog lay on the lake, as it so often did, a light signal was useless. It was obvious that a fog signal, stronger than a fish horn, must be incorporated. In 1907, a steam operated fog signal was installed. A building was made for the fog signal.  This building and the lighthouse stood next to each other until 1936 when the Coast Guard combined the two structures by placing a light tower on top of the building for the fog signal.

The two buildings were painted pale yellow with a deep maroon base.  In 1956, to satisfy a Coast Guard requirement that a structure or light on the right side of any harbor entrance must be red, it was sandlasted and planted the bright red that gives it the title now of Big Red.

Marking the end for the need of lighthouse keepers, the light was electrifid in 1934 and in 1936 air powered horns using electricity were installed.

Since the lighthouse no longer was needed the Coast Guard declared it to be surplus.  A petition and letter writing campaign to save the lighthouse began.  The Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission was organized and this group gave it the name of “Big Red” to create more awareness in its effort to save the lighthouse.

 

 

 

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View of Big Red from the adjoining beach

 

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View of Lake Michigan from the beach by Big Red