The Point Betsie Light Station entry at Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light says that although the lighthouse on the southern tip of South Manitou Island was in 1840, it wasn’t until 1853 that the decision was made to construct a lighthouse to mark the passage’s eastern side and to let ships know when to turn south.
The plan for the Point Betsey Light called for a cylindrical single-walled tower constructed of Cream City brick, standing 37 feet in height from the foundation to the top of the ventilator ball. Five concentric brick rings encircling the tower beneath the lantern, each successively larger in diameter than the lower ring, formed a support for the gallery on which an decagonal cast iron lantern was installed. The lantern was outfitted with a white Fourth Order Fresnel lens equipped with bulls eyes, which was rotated around the lamp by a clockwork drive at a precisely monitored speed to impart the station’s characteristic fixed white light with a flash every 90 seconds. By virtue of the tower’s location on the dune, the lens was located at a focal plane of 52 feet above lake level with a range of visibility of ten miles. The small two story dwelling, also of Cream City brick was located on an excavated cellar immediately inshore of the tower, to which it was connected by a short covered passageway. This passageway was outfitted with a cast iron door at the tower end in order to stop the spread of any possible fire between the two structures.
The exact date on which the Point Betsey Light was exhibited has been lost to history. While Lighthouse Board annual reports and Light Lists report the station as being completed in 1858, it was not until February 1, 1859 that David Flury, the first keeper to be assigned to the station, appears in District payroll. Thus, it may well be that while construction was completed in 1858, the Light was not activated until the opening of the 1859 navigation season.
Read on to learn much more about this gorgeous lighthouse including the steps they had to take to unsure that the pounding surf you see here didn’t destroy the light.