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

Happy Birthday Michigan!

On January 26, 1837 the state of Michigan became the 26th state in the United States of America.

That makes the state 182.

I have only lived here four months but I have found so much that is interesting and I can hardly wait until spring to begin exploring.

  • With 3,200 miles of shoreline Michigan claims more lighthouses than any other state.
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Big Sable Point Light

  • Michigan touches four out of the five great lakes, more than any other state: Huron, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

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  • The legendary children’s story of Paul Bunyan is believed to be based on a French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian Fournier,  who moved to Michigan after the Civil War to take advantage of the high-paying logging industry.  While Minnesota also claims Bunyan as theirs, two towns in Michigan make that claim.  Ossineke has a giant statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox.

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  • The Cross in the Woods Catholic shrine in Indian River has a 55′ foot cross carved from one redwood tree.  Raised in 1954, a sculpture of the crucified Christ was added to the cross in 1959.  My husband and I visited this shrine several years ago when vacationing in Michigan but I am looking forward to seeing it again come spring.

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  • Mackinaw Island is high on my list of places to visit. The island sits between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.  Since I’m a history nut I want to visit Fort Mackinac which was founded in 1780.  Another fort, Fort Holmes, was built during the wall of 1812 and has been reconstructed.  No cars are allowed on the island so that should make travel interesting.
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Mode of transportation on this island

  • Mackinaw Bridge is one my husband and I crossed on our first visit here.  It is a little scary if you are afraid of heights.  The towers reach 554 feet above the surface water.   Five miles long it is the longest suspension bridge in the Americans.  Known as “Big Mac” it  links Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas. When we planned our trip in Michigan a few years ago it included crossing this brige to the upper peninsula.  I was fine until I read how high the bridge was.  Then panic set in because I have a terrible fear of heights.  When we drive through a mountainous area, I often have to close my eyes to avoid a complete panic attack.  Caught between my fear of heights and my desire to see the upper peninsula, I started my day with my devotion before we headed to the car for the trip.  What a pleasant surprise as I read the devotion for that day.  So thankful that God cares even about our silly fears.  The devotion from the book of Habakkuk that day said:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places

I was now calm and ready to go.  My husband has no fear of heights and was not concerned about driving across the bridge.  However, when we were about half way across the bridge I looked at him and he looked terrified too.  It is a beautiful sight – but I’m not sure my husband is ready to drive over it again.  We shall see.

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There’s so much more to see, learn and explore.  But for now, Happy Birthday Michigan!

Michigan’s Lighthouses

I have always loved lighthouses.  When my husband and I took vacations to the east coast we always visited the lighthouses.

Recently moving to Michigan I was so happy to find out the state, with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  Although Old Man Winter is showing up this week with a snow storm and we will not be able to do much traveling right now, come spring I’m heading out to check out these lighthouses.  As the maps below show that will probably keep me busy for a long, long time.

In the meantime, thought you might enjoy some interesting facts about lighthouses:

  • A person who likes lighthouses is said to be a pharophisle.  (Not really sure about that one – the word is not in the dictionary but there are plenty of lighthouse lovers who insist this is a word.  Collins English Dictionary says it is a word “pending investigation”.)
  • The United States has more lighthouses than any other country – 37 states have lighthouses.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the USA is Cape Hatteras Light on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  It stands 193 feet tall.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the world is in Saudi Arabia.  Jeddah Light is 436 feet tall.
  • The east coast of the USA has 391 lighthousesas opposed to only 94 on the west coast.
  • A lighthouse keeper was sometimes called a “wickie” because in the days before electricity the oil lamps were used for a light.  The lighthouse keeper was responsible for keeping the wicks trimmed and the light burning.

I think one reason I love lighthouses so much is the very idea of their existence.  They were created to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  As a girl I loved the song “Jesus is The Lighthouse.”  The Bible also talks quite a bit about Christians being lights in the world.

Here’s the song sung by the Heritage Singers.  Note that it is from 1976 – but I hope you will take time to listen to it.

And you can bet come spring I’ll be posting about the lighthouses of Michigan.