Lighthouses are noble structures, guiding sea-faring vessels to safety along a dangerous coastline. Back in the day, many ships were saved during storms and fog by a lighthouse beam.
The first American lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor in 1716. But by the mid-1800s, the Great Lakes had become an extremely busy shipping region, and lighthouses were popping up along its shores, too. In this Great Lakes area, one of the best states to check out lighthouses is Michigan. They have more than any other state in the nation at 106. Michigan is surrounded by four of the Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, Erie, and Michigan) and has 3,100 miles of coastline, so it’s an obvious and excellent candidate for that honor.
These lighthouses were built in all shapes and sizes to fit the needs of their location. Here is a small sampling of what you can see:
In Mackinac City, Old Mackinac Point Light was constructed in 1892 of Cream City brick (made of clay found in the Milwaukee area) and Indiana limestone. It was a valuable lighthouse until 1957 when the Mackinac Bridge was completed. (The bridge lights turned out to be more helpful for navigation than the lighthouse beam.) In 1960, the lighthouse property was purchased by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. It’s now a maritime museum.
As you approach Mackinac Island on one of the ferry services, you’ll cruise by the Round Island Lighthouse. It’s currently under the care of the United States Forest Service. This lighthouse was completed in 1895 and operated for fifty-two years.
If you’re in Holland, Michigan, don’t miss the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, popularly known as “Big Red.” The present structure dates from 1907. Its gabled roof reflects the Dutch culture of the area. When the Coast Guard recommended that the lighthouse be abandoned in 1970, citizens rallied to save it. Today “Big Red” is owned and maintained by the Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission.
Bonus stop: De Zwaan
Another hard-working structure that earns its keep is a windmill. In Holland, Michigan, stop by the Windmill Island Gardens where they have an authentic working windmill imported from the Netherlands. In 1963, the Dutch city of Vinkel and Holland, Michigan worked out a deal to bring a 1761 windmill named De Zwaan (The Swan) to the United States. The windmill is fully operational today, and a Dutch-certified miller grinds flour on a regular basis. You can purchase a bag of this stone-ground flour in their gift shop in the base.
Whether it’s lighthouses or windmills, Michigan has an interesting variety of landmark buildings and a rich history to go with them!