McGulpin Point Lighthouse on the Straits of Mackinac
December 13, 2012
Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light says that McGulpin Point Lighthouse entry tells the story of this point at the tip of Michigan’s mitten from circa 1000 BC when the great Odawa war chief Sagemaw more or less wiped out the Mus-co-desh tribe for an insult to the Odawa to when John McAlpine and his Native American wife settled on McGulpin Point in the 1760s. Their son Patrick McGulpin was given the patent on this land and the first recorded deed in Emmet County in 1811.
With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Americans started to flood to the Chicago area. During the 1850s, vessel traffic through the Straits of Mackinac was increasing rapidly, and while the Waugoshance Light marked the western entry into the Straits, and the Bois Blanc Island light marked the eastern entry, the absence of a navigational aid within the shoal-ridden Straits themselves made passage during darkness and periods of low visibility extremely dangerous. To answer that need, the Lighthouse Board petitioned Congress for the construction of a lighthouse and fog bell at McGulpin Point, approximately two miles west of Fort Michilimackinac. Congress responded favorably to the request on August 3, 1854 with the appropriation of $6,000 for the station’s construction.
However, as a result of difficulties in obtaining clear title to the land, no action was taken on the station’s construction for more than a decade. With the original appropriation unspent and expired, the Board again petitioned Congress for the construction of a station at McGulpin Point in 1864, this time receiving $20,000 for the project on July 26, 1866.
Work began at McGulpin Point early in 1869, and the station was built as a mirror image of the design used at Chambers Island and Eagle Bluff lights under construction in the Door County area that same year. This plan, which is sometimes referred to as the “Norman Gothic” style, was also later also used at Eagle Harbor in 1871, White River in 1875, and at Passage and Sand Islands in 1882. (click for photos of these lights)
The keepers dwelling and integrated tower were constructed of Cream City brick with the tower integrated diagonally into the northwest corner of the dwelling. The first and second stories of the tower were approximately ten feet square with buttressed corners, while the tower’s upper portion consisted of a ten-foot octagon. Similar to other stations built on this plan, the tower is double-walled with a circular inner wall approximately four inches thick and eight feet in diameter to house a set of cast iron spiral stairs. The tower was capped with a prefabricated decagonal cast-iron lantern and outfitted with a fixed white Third-and-a-half Order Fresnel lens.
You can learn a lot more if you read on at Seeing the Light including the role the light played in knowing when the lakes would be opened for navigation, the role of Keeper Davenport and his 9 children in the rescue of the Waldo A. Avery, how the light was decommissioned in 1906 after the construction of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and passed into private hands and its return to the public domain.
Many more Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures.