The forests in Michigan in the latter half of the nineteenth century helped build the expansion in cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee. Along with the abundant supply of trees in Michigan, the Great Lakes provided the means to transport the lumber to these cities. But lighthouses were necessary for ships to navigate safely in the unpredictable waters of the Great lakes.
Two of these lighthouses were Big Sable Point Lighthouse and Little Sable Point Lighthouse. In our recent road trip to the west side of the mitten we explored from Frankfort to Ludington and on our list of “must sees” were these two lighthouses.
Unfortunately we discovered a visit to Big Sable Point Lighthouse required a walk of 1.8 miles there – and then back. My husband could probably have made the walk, but for me it was impossible. So the only thing we have of Big Sable Point Lighthouse is the pictures we got from post cards.
They do offer a bus ride to the lighthouse twice a year so I am hoping next spring we can go back and ride out to the point.
The French explorers called this area Grande Pointe au Sable. The stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline between Big Sable Point and present-day Ludington was a dangerous area. Twelve ships wrecked in 1855 leading the state to ask the federal government for a light station here.
In 1867 Big Sable was built. Its tower is 112 feet high, only one of a few Michigan lighthouse reaching 100 feet.
Shortly after its construction was completed the brick began to crumble. Steel plates were installed around the light tower. Cement was then poured between the bricks. Mariners complained that they could not see the tower during the day because the bricks, which were cream colored, looked too much like the sand. Thus the black and white colors.
This lighthouse was the last of the Great lakes to become electrified. That paved the way for automation and the lighthouse was closed in 1968. However, the light still comes on automatically at dusk until dawn and can be seen approximately 18 miles out in Lake Michigan.
Disappointed that we did not make it to the lighthouse – but that gives us something to plan for our summer trips in 2020.
Thankfully we were able to reach Little Sable Point Lighthouse. Named by the French Petite Pointe au Sable is translated into Little Sand Point.
Constructed in 1874 it is one of the tallest in Michigan at over 100 feet. There are 130 steps to climb to the top. A few years ago I would have attempted it. Sadly, today my arthritic knees did not permit that.
Still, it was great to see the lighthouse and the beach there was beautiful.
Funds for the lighthouse were approved by Congress in 1872 but the point was inaccessible by roads so construction was delayed until 1874. Even today getting there by road was a little scary. Very narrow and winding with little room for two cars to pass. When I was beginning to think we were driving to the middle of nowhere, we turned a corner and there it was.
Like Big Sable Point Lighthouse, this lighthouse was also painted white so the mariners could see it better. Since it was the lighthouse keeper’s responsibility to paint the tower each year, I am sure this was not a decision they welcomed. In 1977 the tower paint was removed and the lighthouse was restored to its original brick.
Little Sable Point Lighthouse has the special distinction of having a woman lighthouse keeper. She only served for one month but my research showed me there were many women who manned lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes region.
As I shared in an earlier post, Michigan with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA. We have spent this summer exploring many of them – and my husband has been busy painting some of them.
Summer is going by so fast, I am not sure how many more lighthouses we can tour this year – but that will give us something to look forward to when the winter snows comes. If we ever run out of lighthouses to explore in Michigan, our neighboring state, Wisconsin will provide more lighthouses for our adventures.