Charity Island Light

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Charity Island Light
Historic deteriorated Charity Island Light (before the rebuilding)
LocationBig Charity Island, Michigan
Coordinates44°01′53″N 83°26′08″W / 44.03139°N 83.43556°W / 44.03139; -83.43556Coordinates: 44°01′53″N 83°26′08″W / 44.03139°N 83.43556°W / 44.03139; -83.43556
Height45 feet (14 m)[1]
ShapeFrustum of a cone
MarkingsWhite with black lantern[4]
First lit1857
Focal height45 feet (14 m)[2][3]
LensFourth-order Fresnel lens[5]
Range13 nautical miles (24 km; 15 mi)

Charity Island Light is a lighthouse on Big Charity Island in Lake Huron just off the coast of Au Gres, Northern Michigan.[6]


In 1838, the region was the source of lumber being removed from Lower Michigan via the rivers that enter the lower end of Saginaw Bay. The shoals around Charity Island were a major source of problems, posing an obstacle to lumber vessels. It was not until 1856,[7] however, that funds were allocated to establish a light on the island.[8]

The octagonal cast iron lantern displayed a fixed white Fourth Order Fresnel lens light which was constructed in 1857[9] with a 39-foot (12 m) tower which provided a 13-nautical-mile (24 km; 15 mi) range of visibility. The Lighthouse Board was in the process of constructing a set of lights up and down the coast, and 13 nautical miles was considered adequate both to keep boats off the island and to navigate from one light to the next.[8]

It was originally equipped with a white, Fourth Order Fresnel lens. Fourth order Fresnel lenses were 28 inches (710 mm), with a focal length of 9.8 inches (250 mm), and used 5 ounces (140 g) of oil per hour. Although a lens in that configuration had a range of up to 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi), the Charity Island lens had a range of 13 nautical miles. In 1900, an acetylene lens replaced the 4th order lens. The lights characteristic changed from steady white light to a flashing light, at 10 second intervals. "Charity Island lighthouse was the first on the Great Lakes to receive such a light[10]

The light was fully automated in 1900.[9]

The original lighthouse keeper’s quarters was a wood duplex; attached by a walkway was the tower.[4] In 1907, the tower was extended to 45 feet (14 m) and the dwelling gained a second story. In 1917 the site was the first to be automated with an acetylene lamp.[11]

The light was abandoned since 1939 when Gravelly Shoal was lit, and it rapidly fell apart. It wound up on the Lighthouse Digest "Doomsday List"[12] and required rehabilitation.[13]

The Nature Conservancy is said to own the tower.[14]

Alternatively, another source states that the tower is owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and operated by the Arenac County Historical Society.[15]

Present status[edit]

The Charity Island Preservation Committee of the Arenac County Historical Society is restoring the tower.[16] The original keeper's house was razed, and a new restored private residence has been built in its place and on its foundation.[15][17] It is being operated as a restaurant and a bed and breakfast.[10][18] A full list of past keepers of the light is maintained for historical reference.[19]


It is hard to get close enough to this light to see it. In this area, Lake Huron is quite shallow and rocky, and the light is too far out to be seen from shore. Getting a boat near it requires a motor, oars or a long paddle, and considerable care.

However, tours of the island (and dinner cruises) are commercially available on vessels named the Catamaran and the North Star.[10][11] They include the privately owned and recently rebuilt Charity Island Light Lighthouse keeper's house and a passing view of Gravelly Shoal Light.[10] They are available from Charity Island Transport, Inc. in Au Gres, Michigan, on the mainland, south of Tawas.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Tower Heights". Seeing the Light. Archived from the original on 2000-09-18.
  2. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Focal Heights". Seeing the Light. Archived from the original on 2008-08-30.
  3. ^ Seeing The Light – Charity Island Lighthouse
  4. ^ a b "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Michigan". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. Archived from the original on 2017-05-01.
  5. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Original Lenses". Seeing the Light. Archived from the original on 2000-09-18.
  6. ^ Charity Island Light, The Michigan Lighthouse Fund
  7. ^ Lighthouse Central, Photographs, History, Directions and Way points for Charity Island Lighthouse, The Ultimate Guide to East Michigan Lighthouses by Jerry Roach (Publisher: Bugs Publishing LLC - July 2006). ISBN 0-9747977-1-5; ISBN 978-0-9747977-1-7.
  8. ^ a b Charity Island Lighthouse, Seeing The Light, Terry Pepper
  9. ^ a b Beacons in the Night, Michigan Lighthouse Chronology, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University
  10. ^ a b c d Bostwick, Violet M., Charity Island Light,
  11. ^ a b Detroit News Interactive map on Michigan lighthouses.
  12. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Michigan's Eastern Lower Peninsula". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  13. ^ Biggs, Jerry, Home Begins at Charity, Lighthouse Digest, November, 1995.
  14. ^ Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, Charity Island Light.
  15. ^ a b National Park Service, Maritime Heritage Project, Inventory of Historic Light Stations - Michigan Lighthouses, Charity Island Light.
  16. ^ Charity Island Preservation Committee.
  17. ^ Anderson, Kraig, Lighthouse friends, Charity Island Light.
  18. ^ Lighthouses as bed and breakfasts.
  19. ^ Keepers of the Charity Island Light, Great Lakes Lighthouse Research, Phyllis Tag
  20. ^ Charity Island ferry service. Archived 2016-04-27 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

  • Harrison, Tim (editor of Lighthouse Digest and President of the American Lighthouse Foundation), (September, 2009) Ghost Lights of Michigan (Rare historic images and text on Michigan's lost and obscure lighthouse, including bonus chapters on lightships and lighthouse tenders.) East Machias, Maine: Foghorn Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9778293-3-0.

External links[edit]