One of the great things to do in Michigan is to explore lighthouses. Located just north of Detroit, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse was one of the last built on the eastern shore of Michigan’s Thumb. It filled the gap of the 60-mile stretch between Fort Gratiot and Harbor Beach Light.
The Port Sanilac Lighthouse was constructed at breakneck speed between June and October 1886. The tower, house, and oil house were completed on October 13, 1886. The light was put into operation on October 20th utilizing a fixed white light, produced by a fourth-order, Barbier & Fenestre Fresnel lens. The brick octagonal tower has a focal plane of 52 feet, with a total tower height of 59 feet. The light sits on a bluff 69 feet above Lake Huron.
A year later, a ruby chimney was placed atop the lamp inside the Fresnel lens to produce a fixed red light. This was to assist in differentiating the light from those in the growing town of Port Sanilac.
The Port Sanilac Lighthouse Logs
Perhaps one of the most fascinating and valuable artifacts from the lighthouse is the lightkeeper’s logs. Starting in 1872 it was the required duty of lighthouse keepers to make daily entries. While most of the daily entries are weather observations there are also notes of visitors, names ship passing, notes of salvage operations, and of ship collisions and sinking. Genealogists and family historians may find the logs useful in surname searches.
Volumes one and two of the Journal of Light-House Station at Port Sanilac are recorded from October 13, 1886, to December 11, 1905, and are available as a PDF document. An index of names ships and key entries from the journals are also available.
The Port Sanilac Michigan Historical Society has located the last 2 volumes (July 1, 1918, to October 1926). Located at the National Archives and is in the process of digitizing the journals for future publication.
Port Sanilac Lighthouse Operation Today
While the lighthouse is privately owned, the navigation light is still in operation as an assistance to mariners. In 2016, the United States Coast Guard removed the Fresnel lens from the tower and installed an LED light in its place. The automated beacon flashes white every 2.5 seconds and can be observed up to 14 nautical miles out into Lake Huron. The light operates from dusk to dawn.
Port Sanilac Harbor WebCam
You can see a live webcam of the Port Sanilac Michigan harbor and the lighthouse. Using the viewer controls, pan right to see the lighthouse in operation at night. So if you’re looking for fun things to do in Michigan, consider exploring with our day trip guide for the M-25 ribbon around the Thumb. It’s a great way to spend a full day or get away for a weekend.
Related Upper Thumb Reading
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 five lighthouses in Michigan’s Thumb, only two are accessible directly from the land. All the others need a boat to access. Lighthouses Of Michigan’s Upper Thumb.
The Port Aux Barques lighthouse and nearby Life-Saving Station were almost destroyed in the 1881 fire that swept across the thumb. This site is known for its paranormal activity. 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. Haunted And Spooky Sites To Visit In Michigan’s Thumb.
The area just to the north of Port Huron has a rich history. Noted as a strategic chokepoint, the mouth of 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 navigational aid at the mouth of the St. Clair River. Fort Gratiot Light Station – Guarding Southern Lake Huron Since 1829
At the extreme southern end of Michigan’s Thumb lays the town of Port Huron. This lakeside town has close ties to the boating and shipping industry. One interesting little site, located in a county park, is the Lightship Huron. Lightships are floating lighthouses that could be anchored where it was too deep or impossible to build a lighthouse.