Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2012

Color Controversy Surrounds Charlevoix Beacon

By Timothy Harrison


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The red Charlevoix South Pierhead Lighthouse as ...
Photo by: Fran Dollinger

The color of Michigan’s Charlevoix South Pier Lighthouse has become the center of a bit of controversy. It seems that some local residents want the red lighthouse painted white, or at least painted white on the water side of the structure, to make it more visible to boaters.

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The Charlevoix South Pierhead Lighthouse when it ...
Photo by: Larry Patrick

However, others have stated that the lighthouse has been painted red for more years than it was painted white, and red is the historically correct color.

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The 1885 wooden Charlevoix South Pierhead ...

As well as having been a different color over the years, the lighthouse has served at more than one location and was once nearly disposed of and could have been lost forever. It also has the distinction of having had one of the most beautiful homes in lighthouse history for its keepers to live in.

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The no longer standing lighthouse keeper’s house ...

The first beacon established in Charlevoix on the south pier was back in 1880, the same year of the “Blizzard of 1880.” However, it was five years later, in 1885, that the federal government established an official lighthouse, constructed of wood, on the north pier. A fog bell was added in 1906.

In 1911 the wooden lighthouse was moved off the north pier to the newly extended south pier. However, the government did not forget about the north pier and they constructed a 61-foot tall skinny skeletal tower.

In 1948 the Coast Guard tore down the wooden 1885 lighthouse on the south pier and replaced it with an almost identical lighthouse made of metal. The fog bell from the old tower was discarded. However, by 1948 lighthouse keepers were no longer assigned to the lighthouse because the Charlevoix Light Station had been automated in 1944. The keeper’s house, which the U. S. Lighthouse Service had purchased in 1906, was sold at auction on June 13, 1944. Sadly, it no longer stands and is now the site of a park. However, there is a bronze plaque on a rock with an image of the keeper’s house to show the public the magnificent structure that once stood there.

In 1987 the Charlevoix South Pierhead Lighthouse was moved off the end of the pier in anticipation of the 1988 rebuilding of the pier. It seems the contractor had been told to scrap the lighthouse and a local resident carted it away to use for display on his property. However, an immediate public outcry soon changed the contract and the lighthouse would be allowed to remain on the pier. The only problem was that the lighthouse had already been given away to a private individual. Fortunately, the individual was civic minded and gave the lighthouse back, and in August of 1989 the lighthouse was again in place at the end of the south pier.

In 2009 the ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the City of Charlevoix and restoration and long term care has been overseen by the Charlevoix Historical Society.

Most likely the color of the Charlevoix Lighthouse will remain red, a color that is widely used on the Great Lakes.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 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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