Posted by: Kath Usitalo | October 5, 2009

Collecting, Celebrating Lighthouses

Manistique's South Pier Light

Muskegon’s South Pier Light

Everyone knows a collector or two of rocks, or vintage lunchboxes, or Beanie Babies. How about lighthouses?

Once upon a time, as we crossed Lake Michigan aboard the S.S. Badger ferry from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, we met a mother-daughter team who collected lighthouses. Not lighthouse magnets, salt & pepper shakers, or tabletop lighthouses made in China. Sue and her adult daughter Sally (first names only, please—probably a requirement for membership in Lighthouses Anonymous) collected the actual seaside sentinels.

The team was en route to Door Country because, explained Sue, “They have some really nice lighthouses there.” The ladies didn’t photograph or paint the beacons, or buy lighthouse souvenirs to carry back to their home in the Kalamazoo area; they simply liked to view the lighthouses, and take away memories. I was waiting for Sally to speak up and say of their unusual collection, “Look Ma, no dusting.” Instead Sue added, “They’re just beautiful to look at.”

A view of the Mackinac Bridge from Old Mackinac Lighthouse, Mackinaw City

A view of the Mackinac Bridge from Old Mackinac Lighthouse, Mackinaw City

For sentimental reasons they cited Little Sable Point Light as their favorite lighthouse because it was on a vacation to the Silver Lake area of Michigan that the duo started their “collection.” They rated the Sturgeon Point Light, near Harrisville on Lake Huron’s Sunrise Side, as the prettiest they’d seen.

With more than 115 lights in Michigan, they had no shortage of collectibles. “I don’t know exactly why we like them,” said Sally. “There’s just something about lighthouses.”

As a casual observer of these symbols of the Great Lakes I appreciate the role of lighthouses in guiding sailors and their vessels, and try to imagine the challenges that the light keepers and their families faced. I also applaud the tireless volunteers who restore and care for these castles of the inland seas.

One group, the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, consists of preservationists and light lovers across the U.S. and Canada. GLLKA is headed by Great Lakes lights expert Terry Pepper, who directs the group’s efforts in areas of preservation and education, publishes a quarterly magazine and books on the subject, and conducts excursions to lighthouses.

Light-minded folks will gather in Alpena this weekend for the 14th Annual Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival, October 8-11. Activities include lighthouse tours from Tawas Point to Old Mackinac Point, plus lectures, artists, entertainment, auction, and museum exhibits. And vendors—some of them selling tabletop lighthouses made in China, no doubt.

Round Island Lighthouse, near Mackinac Island

Round Island Lighthouse, near Mackinac Island

B & B Lighthouses

Longing to sample the life of a light keeper (without all the hard labor)?

Choose from 3 Bed & Breakfasts with really big nightlights that overlook Lake Superior. They’re open year ’round and can serve as a base for exploring the region’s four seasons of outdoor activity, or just enjoying the spectacle of the greatest Great Lake:

Big Bay Point Lighthouse, located north of Marquette, dates to 1896. The B & B has 7 guest rooms and baths, common rooms and sauna, and offers spa treatments. Located near the scene of the crime featured in the 1959 movie “Anatomy of a Murder.”

The Portage River Lighthouse was built in 1869 and is located at the east side of the Portage Canal on the Keweenaw Peninsula, and now operates as the 5-room Jacobsville Lighthouse Inn.

Built in 1917 to house 3 keepers and their families, Sand Hills Lighthouse was the largest on the Great Lakes. Since 1995 the imposing brick structure has welcomed guests to its 8 guest rooms, each with private bath. Located on the north coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula past the village of Ahmeek.

Pure Michigan logo_with tag


Traveling Teddy and the Muskegon light as we headed to Milwaukee aboard the Lake Express Ferry (see September 11 blog post)



  1. HI there. Beautiful pic. I am in Michigan too. WHo is traveling teddy?

  2. It’s a shame that lighthouses are no longer used. I do like the fact that they are turning them into bed and breakfast. I think that it would be neat to see. Thanks for the info. That’s great.

  3. […] written about lighthouses in the past: click here for the story “Collecting, Celebrating Lighthouses,” including Michigan lighthouses […]

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