Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2013

New Restrictions at Big Red

By Timothy Harrison


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Holland Harbor Lighthouse in Holland, Michigan, ...
Photo by: Shari Davis

Public access to Holland, Michigan’s iconic Big Red Lighthouse will now be restricted to two days per week this summer because local property owners don’t want people near their property.

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The David and Carol Van Andel home (castle) under ...
Photo by: Shari Davis

The new restrictions to the Holland Harbor Lighthouse are the result of meetings that were held over the winter months between the group that owns the lighthouse and the three groups that own property adjacent to the lighthouse. Now, the only times that people will be allowed to walk to the lighthouse will be on Tuesday and Thursdays from mid-morning to sunset. Plus, the visit must be limited to one hour. And, with only four parking places allotted, the numbers of people visiting the lighthouse will be further restricted.

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The Van Andel home (castle) under construction ...
Photo by: Pat Hall

Naturally this has drawn a large number of protests and a number of editorials in the local newspaper, The Holland Evening Sentinel. One person has even started a petition, which at press time had over 1,200 signatures. One of the biggest complaints is that the agreement prevents working people from visiting the lighthouse on the weekends, the only time that these people have to visit the lighthouse.

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Vintage aerial image of the Hotel Macatawa that ...

This is much different from the days when this editor, in my youthful days, could walk out to the lighthouse with my bamboo pole and go fishing by the lighthouse. The famous Hotel Macatawa was still standing then. The gigantic and picturesque hotel dated from the 1800s and attracted people from Chicago and as far away as St. Louis by boat and train. As a young boy, I can attribute my first interest in historic preservation to when the hotel was demolished in 1956. Over the years, private owners have gained a strong foothold on the area; this seemed to reach a head in 1996 when Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel purchased the former Point West Resort that had replaced the Hotel Macatawa. His siblings now control that property.

Unfortunately, private ownership around some of America’s popular lighthouses is not new and will unfortunately have to be contended with. In the early days when these lighthouses were built, no one could have thought that someday they would be popular tourist attractions, and public right of way was never considered in the equation.

In one of the many letters to the editor of The Holland Evening Sentinel, one person wrote, “Many area residents likely wonder about the coincidence of this drastic restriction with the recent construction of the Van Andel mansion on a nearby dune. Surely anyone able to afford a $3.6 million home would be willing to spend a few extra dollars to build a privacy fence. Members of the public, many of whom have sold and purchased Amway products over the years, deserve better than to have the wealthiest few restrict one of life’s simple and long-time pleasures - a walk to Big Red on any day of the week.”

But for the time being, it seems the best views of the lighthouse for those who want to photograph it will be from across the channel at Holland State Park.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2013 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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