What unique architectural structure have most Michiganians seen-either from a boat or from land?
If you answered “lighthouses,” you are correct.
As the 2007 navigation season begins, lighthouses resume their important role of guiding Great Lakes mariners.
More than a century ago, a newspaperman described Great Lakes lighthouses as â€œthe sailors’ altar.â€ In bad weather–when giant waves and strong winds made sailing dangerous–a sailor could count on the lighthouse. More eloquently, this writer added, when the sailor strained to see the dangers in the darkness, â€œthe lighthouse flashes him a ray which guides his eye to the point of safety.â€
Michigan’s first lighthouse opened near Port Huron in 1823. Over the course of the next century, dozens of others were added. Eventually, more than 120 lighthouses were located in Michigan waters–more lighthouses than in any other state. Most are located on land or at the end of a pier, but some are isolated and surrounded by water. They come in all shapes and sizes–conical, skeletal, round and square. They are even floating lighthouses, like the lightship Huron, which sat at the mouth of the St. Clair River for 34 seasons until its retirement in 1970. (Today, the lightship is a museum in Port Huron.)
Today, the U.S. Coast Guard is transferring ownership of Great Lakes lighthouses to other government agencies and private citizens. Coupled with recent inventions like sonar and global positioning, the role of lighthouses is changing. However, these sentinels of the lakes have already written their own chapter in Michigan’s rich history.
For more on Michigan’s lighthouse heritage or information on purchasing a copy of â€œLighting the Way,â€ the Spring 2007 issue of Michigan History for Kids, call (800) 366-3703 or visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com.
You can see many (many) more articles and links to Michigan’s lighthouses by heading over to Absolute Michigan keyword “lighthouse” and see many (many) more photos of Michigan’s many lighthouses in the Absolute Michigan pool on Flickr. If you’re the question answering kind, you could tell us what your favorite Michigan lighthouse is in the comments!