History of Lighthouses in Michigan

dock lightingWhen you think of the great state of Michigan, you may naturally think of the Great Lakes.  Part of the rich history of the “Mitten State” is the large number of lighthouses that are along the coastlines of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Huron.

While dock lighting installations (more commonly seen on residential properties on inland lakes) mimic the purpose of a lighthouse, there is something majestic about the storied histories that gives people yet another wonderful reason to embrace Michigan and its’ heritage.

Lighthouses are essentially what the name implies:  a large structure with a huge light on top.  The purpose was to aid ships that were navigating the Great Lakes to give them visual indication of the shoreline, and also of any hazards that may not be easily seen.  They were normally erected at commercial ports that handled a large number of vessels as well.  At one point there was close to 250 lighthouses in Michigan.

Lighthouses were first put in place along the Michigan coasts in 1825.  There was no electricity infrastructure in place that long ago, so the lamps used were mostly powered by oil (and sometimes even by a large array of candles).  These light sources were directed out towards the water by the use of concave mirrors and specialized lenses.

As you can imagine, a “fire-based” light source that was large enough for a ship to see it from miles away could be laborious to maintain.  It was very common for these lighting units to be mounted at the top of a dwelling that housed a 24-hour “keeper”; their job was to maintain the light and make sure that it was always in operation during the night and times of low visibility.

dock lighting installations

As time goes on, technology advances

Over time (around the 1870’s) the lamps were mounted to taller brick structures in an attempt to get the lights higher in the air for better visibility.  These brick structures eventually evolved into those that had steel frames.

As time and technology progressed, electricity was used to power the massive lamps.  In the early 20th century the electrical infrastructure was such that it could support lighthouse operation, and by the mid-1920s around ¼ of the lighthouses in operation were electrically powered.  By the mid-20th century, oil and candle lamps were firmly things of the past.

With the convenience of electric lamps, the need for constant monitoring by lighthouse keepers was really no longer needed.  Advances such as electrical timers made it possible to have the lights to basically operate themselves.  As the number of keepers reduced, they were replaced with occasional visits to verify proper operation and perform any maintenance needed.  By the early 1980’s there were technically no longer any keepers at all, with the Coast Guard assuming responsibility for the operation.

Lighthouses are an integral part of Michigan’s nautical history, and there are many of the older structures that are still in existence.  They are excellent tourist destinations where people can relive the past and get an understanding of the challenges that were inherent in navigating the Great Lakes.

The overall purpose of a lighthouse can most certainly be duplicated for a residential location.  Having an installation of LED boat docking lights from a company such as Imagine Marine will aid you to properly and safely dock your boat.  Imagine having your own personal “lighthouse!”