Whitefish Point Light

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Whitefish Point Light
Whitefish Lighthouse.JPG
Whitefish Point Light in July 2018
LocationWhitefish Point
Whitefish Township, Michigan
Coordinates46°46′14″N 84°57′24″W / 46.77056°N 84.95667°W / 46.77056; -84.95667Coordinates: 46°46′14″N 84°57′24″W / 46.77056°N 84.95667°W / 46.77056; -84.95667
Height76 feet (23 m)[2][3][4]
ShapeLattice Tower[7]
HeritageNational Register of Historic Places listed place, Michigan state historic site Edit this on Wikidata
RaconEdit this on Wikidata
First lit1849[1]
Focal height80 feet (24 m)[5]
Lens3rd order Fresnel Lens[8] (original), Light-emitting diode (LED) lantern[6] (current)
IntensityRACON: O (– – –). Standby light of reduced intensity.[3]
Range15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi)[6]
CharacteristicFl(2) W 20s Edit this on Wikidata
Whitefish Point Light
NRHP reference No.73000947[9]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 28, 1973
Designated MSHSFebruary 22, 1974[10]

The Whitefish Point Light is a lighthouse located in Chippewa County in the U.S. state of Michigan.[11] Located on the southeastern shores of Lake Superior, it sits at the edge of Whitefish Point leading to Whitefish Bay. Constructed in 1849, it is the oldest operating lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula. All vessels entering or exiting Lake Superior pass near Whitefish Point. The area is infamously known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes" due to the high number of shipwrecks in the area, most famously the SS Edmund Fitzgerald.[12]

The lighthouse is part of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum complex, which contains numerous relics from shipwrecks of the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, including the bell of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. The lighthouse itself was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and again as a Michigan State Historic Site in 1974.


Vintage image of Whitefish Point Light
Whitefish Point Light 2007
The DCB-224 Carlisle & Finch aerobeacon in operation at Whitefish Point on November 3, 2007.
Whitefish Point Light 2011
The light-emitting diode lantern installed at Whitefish Point in August 2011.

Construction on the first light began in 1847, and the lighthouse was said to resemble that at Old Presque Isle Light.[13] First lit in 1849, it was one of the first lighthouses on the shores of Lake Superior. It is the oldest active light on the lake, standing at the point of land that marks the course change for vessels coming from the southern coast of Lake Superior, known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes", to the Soo Locks.[1] All vessels entering or leaving Lake Superior must past Whitefish Point. Whitefish Point Light is arguably the most important light on Lake Superior. The Whitefish Point area has more shipwrecks than any other area in Lake Superior.[14]

The original structure was outfitted with Lewis lamps, which were thereafter upgraded to a fourth order Fresnel lens. The current structure, while modern looking, is a Civil War relic. Built in 1861, the iron skeletal steel framework was designed to relieve stress caused by high winds. A similar design is used at Manitou Island Light in Lake Superior. It was equipped with a third order Fresnel lens.[15]

In 1968, the light was replaced with a DCB-224 aero beacon[16] manufactured by the Carlisle & Finch Company.[17] According to Volume 7 of the U.S. Coast Guard light list, it was visible for a distance of 26 nautical miles (48 km; 30 mi) in clear weather conditions, and had two unevenly spaced eclipses, and two flashes within every 20 second period.[3] Putting aside questions of nostalgia, aesthetics, or appreciation for the engineering of a bygone era (as exemplified by the Fresnel lens), this iteration of lighthouse illumination was itself incredibly effective, and an endangered remnant of another bygone era.[18]

The station was automated in 1971.

In 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard Local Notice to Mariners reported reduced intensity of the Whitefish Point light from June 7, 2011 until August 16, 2011, when the DCB-224 Series Carlisle & Finch aerobeacon lens was changed to a light-emitting diode (LED) lantern with a reduced range of 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi)[6] as permitted by Coast Guard rules and regulations adopted in 2003 for private aids to navigation.[19] The aerobeacon lens is stored in a building at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum complex for possible future public display.

The lighthouse is home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which has many artifacts from numerous shipwrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, most notably, the bell from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which was recovered from the wreck in 1995. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is open during the tourist season from 10 am to 6 pm, every day through October 31.[20] The organization that operates the museum got 80.079% of its funding from the public in the year 2010.[21]

The light is considered iconic, and has been the subject of memorabilia.[22] An official Michigan Historical Marker was erected in 1974. It is Registered Site L0272. The marker notes:

The keepers were:

  • 1848–1851: James B. Van Rensselaer
  • 1851–1853: Amos Stiles
  • 1853–1856: William C. Crampton
  • 1856–1859: Belloni McGulpin
  • 1859–1861: Charles Garland
  • 1861–1864: Joseph Kemp
  • 1864–1868: Thomas Stafford
  • 1868–1874: Edward Ashman
  • 1874–1882: Charles J. Linke
  • 1882–1883: Edward Chambers
  • 1883–1903: Charles Kimball
  • 1903–1931: Robert Carlson[24]

Whitefish Point is on the Lake Superior coastline known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes”. The numerous shipwrecks of Whitefish Bay include:

These wreck sites are protected for future generations of sports divers by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.[25]

The site is a venue for remembrance of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, and extends back to the 1816 loss of "the very first ship known to sail on Superior, the sixty-foot trading vessel Invincible," which upended in gale force winds and towering waves near there. "[E]very loss was tragic."[12]

There are critics that claim that the stewardship of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society over this lighthouse caused it to be "overdeveloped."[26][27] Michigan Audubon Society filed a lawsuit that accused the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society of over-developing Whitefish Point and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service of not protecting the site.[28] The lawsuit was settled in 2002 when the parties agreed to govern the site with a management plan.[29] The former 44-acre Coast Guard site at Whitefish Point consists of 2.7 acres transferred to the Michigan Audubon Society and the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, 8.3 acres transferred to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and 33 acres transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service administered by Seney National Wildlife Refuge.[30][31] The 20-acre Helstrom Addition was added to the Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in 2012 so that the US Fish and Wildlife Service now holds a total of 55 acres at Whitefish Point.[32][33]

Other uses[edit]

The Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge[34] provides important migratory bird migration habitat for raptors, waterbirds, and songbirds. Whitefish Point is a designated Important Bird Area .[35] The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory[36] is a research and education facility operated in affiliation with Michigan Audubon, a State Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Whitefish Point is the best place in North America to observe the saw-whet owl.[37][38] Most of Whitefish Point is a wildlife sanctuary, renowned for the variety of birds that pass through. The Michigan Audubon Society maintains a small information room informing birders particular species to observe as they hike along the trails network. A wooden walkway has been constructed to allow the visitor a chance to venture into the sanctuary area and observe wildlife. Whitefish Point is a target for migrating birds, including eagles, Northern goshawks, geese, falcons, hawks and owls.[12]

The sandy beach along the point is an exciting place to look for banded agates, especially after a storm or to take a walk along the sandy shoreline and enjoy the magic of Lake Superior.

In 2012, for the fourth year in a row after a 23-year absence, piping plovers nested at Whitefish Point, and successfully fledged offspring.[39]

From M-123.svg M-123 in Paradise, go north on Whitefish Point Road for just over 11 miles (18 km) to Whitefish Point Lighthouse. It is well marked.[40]

See also[edit]

Specialized further reading[edit]

  • Hermanson, Don, True Lighthouse Hauntings, Revisited including Whitefish Point Light.[41]
  • Lynn, Bruce. "A Light is on in the Graveyard, Whitefish Point." (Aug 1997), pp. 1–3 Lighthouse Digest.


  1. ^ a b Allen, Thomas; Canfield, Edward (2001) [First published 1991]. Life on a Lonely Shore (6th ed.). Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan: Lake Superior State University. p. 3. ISBN 0-9706903-0-4.
  2. ^ National Park Service Maritime Heritage, Inventory of Historic Lights, Whitefish Point Light.
  3. ^ a b c Light List, Volume VII, Great Lakes (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard.
  4. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Tower Heights". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com.
  5. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Focal Heights". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com.
  6. ^ a b c "2011 Archives Imn09232011.pdf - Imn09332011.pdf". Local Notice to Mariners. U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Coast Guard. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  7. ^ Terry Pepper, Seeing the Light, "Lighthouse Tower Designs," at terrypepper.com.
  8. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Original Lenses". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com.
  9. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  10. ^ State of Michigan (2009). "Whitefish Point Light". Archived from the original on May 11, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
  11. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Whitefish Point Lighthouse Historical Marker
  12. ^ a b c Exploring The North: Whitefish Point Lighthouse and Museum
  13. ^ Lighthouse Central, Photos of the Whitefish Point Light Station, The Ultimate Guide to Upper Michigan Lighthouses by Jerry Roach (Publisher: Bugs Publishing LLC – 2007). ISBN 978-0-9747977-2-4.
  14. ^ Stonehouse, Frederick (1998) [First published 1985]. Lake Superior's Shipwreck Coast (6th ed.). Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios. pp. 11–12, 176, 267. ISBN 0-932212-43-3.
  15. ^ Terry Pepper, Seeing the Light – Whitefish Point Lighthouse.
  16. ^ Aero beacon, Terry Pepper, Seeing the Light.
  17. ^ Carlisle & Finch Company.
  18. ^ Trapani, Bob, DCB-36 Beacon... Fading Away and All but Forgotten by History, Stormherocs.com.
  19. ^ "33 CFR Part 66: Final Rule: Allowing Alternatives to Incandescent Lights, and Establishing Standards for New Lights, in Private Aids to Navigation". Federal Register. regulations.gov. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  20. ^ Virtual tour of Whitefish Point Light.
  21. ^ "Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society 2010 Form 990" (PDF). National Center for Charitable Statistics. 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2012.
  22. ^ Rubber Stamp, Whitefish Point Light.
  23. ^ Michigan Historical Markers.
  24. ^ "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Michigan". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. Archived from the original on May 1, 2017.
  25. ^ Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve
  26. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  27. ^ "Birdwaters, shipwreck buffs seek deal in fight over revered site". The Evening News. Sault Ste. Marie, MI. April 7, 2002. p. 5A. Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  28. ^ Lively, Jim (2002). "Human use/natural resource management plan for Whitefish Point" (PDF). Michigan Land Use Institute. p. 13. Retrieved May 22, 2013.
  29. ^ Michigan Audubon Society v. Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (W.D. MI 2001) ("…the structure and use of the proposed museum wings will not impair or interfere with the conservation values as provided in the Transfer Statutes…").U.S. Courts: public access to court electronic records Text
  30. ^ Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  31. ^ Lively, p. 10
  32. ^ "Seney National Wildlife Refuge". Retrieved May 21, 2013.
  33. ^ "Michigan Birder Leaves a Legacy for Great Lakes Piping Plovers". April 29, 2013. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
  34. ^ Casselman, Tracy (2009). "Seney National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan" (PDF). United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved January 21, 2011.
  35. ^ Whitefish Point Important Bird Area
  36. ^ Whitefish Point Bird Observatory,
  37. ^ Owl Banding at Whitefish Point
  38. ^ Exploring the North, Birds at Whitefish Point.
  39. ^ Maslowski, Jeremy (August 1, 2012). "Return of the Piping Plover: A Seney National Wildlife Refuge Success Story". USFWS. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  40. ^ Anderson, Kraig, Lighthouse Friends, Whitefish Point Lighthouse.
  41. ^ Hermanson, Don, True Lighthouse Hauntings, Revisited, (Keweenaw Video) including Whitefish Point Light. (cover art)

External links[edit]