Seul Choix Light

The Seul Choix Light is a lighthouse located in the northwest corner of Lake Michigan in Schoolcraft County, Michigan. The station was established in 1892 with a temporary light, and this light started service in 1895, and was fully automated in 1972. It is an active aid to navigation. There is now a museum at the light and both the building and the grounds are open for visitors from Memorial Day until mid-October.

History

This location is the only harbor of refuge in a long and dangerous stretch of coast; the translation of the French name is "only choice" so it is clear that it was used as a refuge by the early French traders in this area. Local references state that the correct pronunciation is "Sis-shwa", assumed to be the common name used by both the French Voyageurs and the Native Americans with whom they traded furs.

In the 1880s, there was increased maritime traffic between the harbors on Lake Michigan's western shore and Green Bay on the one hand, and the Straits of Mackinac on the other. Although the St. Helena Island Light marked the western entry into the Straits, and Poverty Island Light lighted the entrance to the Bays de Noc, there were no lighthouses to aid mariners navigating a dark 100-mile (160 km) stretch of coastline on the southern shore of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The navigation season along this shoreline often began and ended with treacherous storms. Waves would build as they traversed the lake, making shelter a matter of life and death. Thus, mariners would seek shelter on the leeward side of points protruding into the lake along this stretch of unlighted shore.

The United States Lighthouse Board sought to mark the sheltering harbor, and provide a visual waypoint between the two existing lights. After considerable investigation and delay, the result was the building of this lighthouse . It also included a separate fog horn building, and a life saving station. Although it was built two decades later, the design of this light is similar to the Au Sable Light which was designed by Orlando M. Poe, which also resembles the Grosse Point Light The building is designed in Italianate architecture.

During ten years of service as engineer for the Eleventh Lighthouse District, Colonel Poe designed eight lighthouses, namely: Presque Isle Light (1870) on Lake Huron; Lake Michigan’s South Manitou Island Light (1872); Grosse Point Lighthouse (1873) in Evanston, Illinois; Au Sable Light (1874) on Lake Superior; Wind Point Light (1880) near Racine, Wisconsin; Outer Island Light (1874) in the Apostle Islands; Little Sable Point Light (1874) on Lake Michigan, and Seul Choix Light near Manistique, Michigan which completed in 1895; and his crowning achievement, Spectacle Reef Light (1874). Others consider his "crowning achievement" to be the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The original optic was a fixed third-order Henry-LePaute Fresnel lens (pronounced /freɪˈnɛl/). After its removal in 1973, it was housed in the Steamship Valley Camp Museum in Sault Ste. Marie, but is now in a private collection according to a sign in the keeper's dwelling.

When the light was automated,the original lens was removed and an aerobeacon was emplaced

The light was replaced with a DCB-224 aero beacon manufactured by the Carlisle & Finch Company. In this configuration, its characteristic is a white flash every six seconds, which is visible for a distance of 17 nautical miles (31 km) in clear weather conditions, like the original lens. In 1973, the Coast Guard closed the station, and left the automated light unmanned. Putting aside questions of nostalgia, aesthetics, or appreciation for the engineering of a bygone era (as exemplified by the Fresnel lens), this iteration of lighthouse illumination is itself incredibly effective, and an endangered remnant of another bygone era.

The site includes two brick oil houses, a workshop, barn, cistern in lighthouse keeper's house, converted boathouse (now a garage), a second keepers house, two outhouses, and a dock.

On July 19, 1984, the site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Reference #84001846 as Seul Choix Pointe Light Station (U.S. Coast Guard/Great Lakes TR). In 1987 it was also listed on the state registry.

Lighthouse in popular culture

The light is the subject of drawings, and even needlepoint illustrations.

Folk singer Carl Behrend recorded an album entitled "The Ballad of Seul Choix Lighthouse

Current status

The lighthouse is operated by the Gulliver Historical Society, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

It is open to the public and tours are available (including climbing the tower), which is "relatively rare for an active aid to navigation." On display are the fog signal and a very old dugout canoe which was found on site. There are also "unique copper moldings around some of the interior door frames .. . a decorative touch . . . in lighthouse dwellings."

The lighthouse is in the end stage its historical restoration, being performed by National Restoration, Inc.

Grounds are open year round, and the light and museum is open from Memorial Day until October 15.

Getting there

The light, located in a Michigan State Park near Gulliver, Michigan is about eleven miles (18 km) east of Manistique. From U.S. Route 2 in Gulliver, follow County Road 432 south about 4 miles (6.4 km) to County Road 431. Turn right (west) on CR-431 another 4 miles (6.4 km) to the park.

Specialized further reading
  • Fischer, Jenifer. "Seul Choix Pointe Light Station." The Keeper's Log (United States Lighthouse Society, Spring 2004), pp. 2–7.
  • Hermanson, Don, True Lighthouse Hauntings, Revisited including Seul Choix Light (cover art).
  • Perry, Terry, Seeing the Light, a full history of Seul Choix light.
  • Taylor, Paul (October 2009) Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer (Kent State University Press) ISBN 1606350404; ISBN 978-1606350409.
  • Wobser, David; Woodward, James; and Shook, Jeff, Seul Choix Light, Boatnerd.com.

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