Digest>Archives> October 1996

40-Mile Point Lighthouse-after 100 years

By Make Modrzynski


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Michigan's 40 Mile Point Light.
Photo by: K. Knisely, Columbia City, IN.

By Mike Modrzynski courtesy of the Alpena News, Alpena, Michigan

A silent sentinel now, but this year the lighthouse at 40-Mile Point celebrates 100 years of service to vessels cruising the shores of northern Lake Huron.

Entering service during the early days of commercial shipping along the coastline of Michigan, the stark white tower still stands guard for modern day vessels plying the waters off northern Presque Isle County.

From the top of her 85-foot tower, lighthouse keepers noted seeing both the Spectacle Reef Light near Cheboygan and the light from the Presque Isle Lighthouse near the county's southern boundary.

The long expanse of open water along the northern shoulders of Lake Huron and the shoals and false bays that claimed a number of vessels, made the selection of the site known as 40 Mile Point an easy one for the Federal Lighthouse Board to erect a new "light station."

The site was surveyed in the spring of 1895, by Captain George Dewey, USN, the chairman of the "Committee of Locations," and was approved by the full board in June of that year. His report included a recommendation that an 85-foot tower be built to "provide a light along this stretch of Lake Huron."

The Lighthouse Board took little time, and apparently wasted little discussion, in approving Dewey's report and moved to seek bids for materials and manpower to build the facility.

While the board waited for bids to arrive, another committee, the "Committee on Lighting," submitted its report approving of the site selection, and adding guidelines for the style and operation of the light atop the tower.

The report read, "The light should be a flashing white light, revolving every 10 seconds, and placed so as to be 85 feet above the level of the lake." This recommendation too, was approved by the full board in the fall of 1895.

In February 1896, the plans were approved for the lighthouse and the living quarters for the keeper and his assistant. The Lighthouse Board also added a clause that would allow for, "a barn or other inexpensive structure if needed." In June, the bids were received by the board and the construction of the facility began.

Bids for the building of the light tower and the associated buildings included: Brick work-C. Clippert & Sons of Detroit, $1,148.40

Dressed lumber-Delta Lumber Company, $551.37

Factory work-Delbridge Cameron Company, $683.63

Subsistence stores-John Blessen & Sons, $683.25

Metal work-Russell Wheel & Foundry Company, $1,389

The original drawings for the light tower and the residence and other outbuildings showed the favored use of mass in constructing tall structures.

The drawings detailing the duplex that housed the two families operating the light, showed walls that were 4-inches thick with dead-air spaces between them for the only insulation in the structure.

A number of other features never made it to the final construction phase, such as the fortress-like battlements and several other features that would have created a building that more closely resembled a castle than a lighthouse.

Also included in the plans were a number of outbuildings, including the fog horn building, now used as a pavilion by park visitors. The building once housed twin four-and-half foot diameterboilers that fueled the twin fog horns used in the foul weather common to the area in early spring and, of course, during the final weeks of the shipping season.

Peggy (Tupper) Hoffman, the daughter of Clarence Tupper, keeper of the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse starting in 1934, remembered the fog horns.

The fog horns were located about 75 yards from the family housing building, but still "blew you right off your feet when they first went off," she recalled. "It sounded like it was right underneath you, but you got used to it and after a while it lulled you to sleep."

Work went quickly, and the massive structure began its vigil of the waters of northern Lake Huron in November of 1896. The keeper and the assistant keeper, along with their families, began the watch over the shipping along the coast of Presque Isle County, keeping careful logs that described the day-to-day life of the men and women who lived and worked in the new lighthouse.

Nothing escaped a note in the log, as even the keeper's dog drew mention when it tangled with a local resident-a porcupine.

The log for June 12, 1897, reported. "Lane's dog got a jowl full of porcupine last light-can't see his head for the quills sticking out. It took two days to pull them all out."

Although the shoals along the northern stretched of Presque Isle County aren't as dangerous as other regions of the state, the waters did manage to claim a number of vessels, several within sight of the lighthouse.

Reading the early logs, kept painstakingly accurate by the early keepers, there was little indication of any trouble other than severe weather. There were, however, numerous references to "cleaning, painting, and keeping the light in working order."

Notations on the conditions of the lake, winds, rain and fog and even comments on the passing of the occasional freighter along the coast were entered along with the constant mention of house chores.

One of the more interesting chores noted in the early logs was the task of breaking down large blocks of coal into smaller pieces to fit them into the stoves in the station.

Wood never seemed to be in sufficient supply either, since keeper Ed Lane made nearly daily entries about having to "chop more wood for the stoves." The need for wood was even more critical during the long cold winters but then snow removal was added to the list of routine chores.

The only chore the staff of the 40-Mile Point Lighthouse seemed not to mind was the regular trip into Rogers City to pick up paychecks.

"Visitors to the lighthouse are limited to walking the property around the facility since the U. S. Coast Guard has closed the tower.

Restoration of the buildings is an ongoing project funded, in part, by Presque Isle County and through the efforts of volunteer workers. Plans include restoration of the side of the duplex not occupied by the county park curator, eventually creating a museum and, possibly, a gift shop.

For more information on becoming a part of the restoration of this northern Michigan landmark, contact members of the newly formed 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Association; Eldon Cornett (517) 734-4029, or Ron Campa (517) 734-4814.

This story appeared in the October 1996 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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