The area just to the north of Port Huron has a rich history. Noted as a strategic chokepoint, the mouth St. Clair River was the gateway to the northern lakes and the rich fur and lumber trade. Shipping on the Great Lakes increased in the 1820s and Congress recognized the need for a navigational aid at the mouth of the St. Clair River. This is how Fort Gratiot Lighthouse was established.
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse Guides Into the St. Clair River and the Lower Lakes
The current tower of the Fort Gratiot light was built in April 1829 by Lucius Lyons. It was situated north of an older tower light that has collapsed into the St. Clair River after a violent storm the prior November. The tower constructed of brick to a height of 65 feet. In 1862 the height was increased to 82 feet to match the focal point of a new 4th order Fresnel lens. In 1867 the light was changed to flash to distinguish the light from nearby railroad signals. Starting operations on the Great Lakes in 1829, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Michigan.
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse Campus Grows
In 1871 another building was built to house a fog signal. A few years later, a new lightkeepers’ house constructed after the original house was destroyed by fire. It was large enough to house two families, the lighthouse keeper and his assistant.
The lighthouse was almost wiped out by the famous “White Hurricane” storm in November 1915. Waves 30 to 40 feet high crashed on the tower and threatened to undermine the foundation of the structure.
Home of the Coast Guard
In 1932 the U.S. Coast Guard Station was built on the campus. A few years later, in 1939, Congress merged the U.S. Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard. Three acres of land were purchased by the government, and operations from lifeboat Station Lake View Beach moved to the campus. A new barracks was built to house the personnel. The old Station lake View Beach was abandoned in 1946. The USCG used these barracks until 2004 when a new station was built on the south side of the campus.
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse Today
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse operates today has a county park and is open to the public. The park campus includes the Light Keeper’s Duplex, Fog Signal Building, Single Keeper’s Dwelling, former Coast Guard Station, Equipment Building, and a three-bay garage. Tours of the town of the lighthouse are available May through December.
The automated light tower is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The light can be seen from 16 miles out into the lake. The green light flashes for one second every six seconds. In 1971 the Light Station was declared a National Historic Monument. The US Coast Guard’s mission includes Search and Rescue, Maritime Law Enforcement, Ice Rescue, and Recreational Boating Safety. The area of responsibility is Lower Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, three smaller rivers, and two man-made harbors on Lake Huron.
Related Fort Gratiot Mi Reading
Lighthouses of Michigan’s Upper Thumb – There are 124 Michigan lighthouses across the state. They are unique, functional, and draw many visitors to explore their grounds or climb the towers. Of the four lighthouses in the Upper Thumb, only one is accessible directly from the land. All the others need a boat to access.
The Lightship Huron – One interesting little site, located in a county park, is the Lightship Huron. Lightships are floating lighthouses that could be anchored on the lakes where it was too deep or impossible to build a lighthouse. Lightships displayed a light at the top of a mast and, and in foggy conditions, it sounded a signal. Locals called the Huron “Old B.O.”
The Haunted Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse – This site is known for paranormal activity, as tourists have reported seeing a mysterious form pull back curtains on the second story of the empty lighthouse. Some say this story goes back to the 1930s and that a former housekeeper haunts the main house.
The Ruins of the Charity Island Lighthouse – Taken in 1993 by photographer and artist Sue Hardy. Developers envisioned 24 exclusive homes across the island. The first phase of the project was to take 60,000 pounds of dynamite to blast out the small harbor. It took 16 weeks to carve out the marina basin.