Whitefish Point Lighthouse

The Whitefish Point Light is a lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Construction on the first light began in 1847, and the lighthouse was said to resemble that at Old Presque Isle Light.

First lit in 1849, it was one of the first lighthouses on the shores of Lake Superior and is also the oldest active light on the lake. The original structure was outfitted with Lewis lamps, which were thereafter upgraded to a Fourth Order Fresnel lens.

The current structure, while modern looking, is a Civil War relic. Built in 1861, the iron skeletal steel framework was designed to relieve stress caused by high winds. A similar design is used at Manitou Island light in Lake Superior. It was equipped with a Third Order Fresnel lens.

In 1968, the light was replaced with a DCB-224 aero beacon manufactured by the Carlisle & Finch Company. According to Volume 7 of the U.S. Coast Guard light list, it is visible for a distance of 26 nautical miles (48 km) in clear weather conditions, and has two unevenly spaced eclipses, and two flashes within every 20 second period. 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 station was automated in 1971.

The lighthouse is home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which has many shipwreck artifacts, including artifacts from shipwrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve and the SS Edmund Fitzgerald's bell which was recovered from the wreck in 1995. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is open for during the tourist season from 10 am to 6 pm, every day through October 31. The organization that operates the museum got 73.09% of its funding from the public in the year 2007.

The light is considered to iconic, and has been the subject of memorabilia.An official Michigan Historical Marker was erected in 1974. It is Registered Site L0272. The marker notes:

  • This light, the oldest on Lake Superior, began operating in 1849, though the present tower was constructed later. An early stopping place for Indians, Voyageurs, Coureur des bois and Jesuit missionaries, the point marks the course change for ore boats and other ships navigating this treacherous coastline to and from St. Mary's Canal. Since 1971 the light, fog signal, and radio beacon have been automated and controlled from Sault Ste. Marie.

The keepers were: 1848-1851: James B. Van Renselaer 1851-1853: Amos Stiles 1853-1856: William C. Crampton 1856-1859: Belloni McGulpin 1859-1861: Charles Garland 1861-1864: Joseph Kemp 1864-1868: Thomas Stafford 1868-1874: Edward Ashman 1874-1882: Charles J. Linke 1882-1883: Edward Chambers 1883-1903: Charles Kimball 1903-1931: Robert Carlson

Whitefish Point is on the Lake Superior coastline known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes”. The numerous shipwrecks of Whitefish Bay—including those of the Comet, John B. Cowle, Drake, Samuel Mather, Miztec, Myron, Niagara, John M. Osborn, Sagamore, Superior City, and Vienna—are protected for future generations of sports divers by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.

The site is a venue for remembrance of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, and extending back to the loss in 1816 of "the very first ship known to sail on Superior, the sixty-foot trading vessel Invincible," which upended in gale force winds and towering waves near there. "very loss was tragic."

There are critics that claim that the stewardship of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society over this lighthouse caused it to be "overdeveloped." Questions have been posed and documents collected in an ongoing dispute about conservation of artifacts and places. This controversy has led to at least one group being banned from the premises.

Other uses

The Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge provides important migratory bird migration habitat for raptors, waterbirds, and songbirds. Whitefish Point is a designated Important Bird Area . The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory is a research and education facility operated in affiliation with Michigan Audubon, a State Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Whitefish Point is the best place in North America to observe the Saw-whet Owl. Most of Whitefish Point is a wildlife sanctuary, renowned for the variety of birds that pass through. The Michigan Audubon Society maintains a small information room informing birders particular species to observe as they hike along the trails network. A wooden walkway has been constructed to allow the visitor a chance to venture into the sanctuary area and observe wildlife. Whitefish Point is a target for migrating birds, including eagles, goshawks, geese, falcons, hawks and owls.

The sandy beach along the point is an exciting place to look for banded agates, especially after a storm or to take a walk along the sandy shoreline and enjoy the magic of Lake Superior.

In 2009, for the first time in two decades, a pair of Piping Plovers nested at Whitefish Point, and successfully fledged three offspring.

From M-123 in Paradise, go north on Whitefish Point Road for just over 11 miles (18 km) to Whitefish Point Lighthouse. It is well marked.

Specialized further reading
  • Hermanson, Don, True Lighthouse Hauntings, Revisited including Whitefish Point Light.
  • Lynn, Bruce. "A Light is on in the Graveyard, Whitefish Point." (Aug 1997), pp. 1–3 Lighthouse Digest.

Building Activity