Across Saginaw Bay from Michigan’s Thumb sits one of the prettiest lighthouses in Michigan. The Tawas Point Lighthouse was in operation during the lumber boom in 1876 and ran continuously until 2016. The lighthouse and tower sit on a sandy point of land that is said to be always changing. It was said that ship traffic on Saginaw Bay during the late 1800s resembled a busy highway.
The Tawas Point Light House
Tawas Point is 2.5 miles southeast of East Tawas on Tawas Beach Road, off US-23. Bay City is slightly over an hour away, while the Detroit area is three hours away. The 183-acre park is located at the tip of a sand dune that separates Lake Huron from Tawas Bay.
The park’s campground lies on Tawas Bay, where the water is shallow and warm for swimming. The Tawas Point Lighthouse is included within the park. The station is the only one of its kind on the Great Lakes, and it was erected in the Victorian era.
History of the Tawas Point Light
This Tawas Point Lighthouse is actually the second lighthouse on the point. In 1850 the Lighthouse Service commissioned a light station to safely guide ships into Tawas Bay. The first light station was built in 1852 at the end of the Tawas Point, then known as Ottawa Point. The prisms of its fifth-order Fresnel Lens magnified the light making it visible to mariners up to ten miles away. Keepers lived on-site to maintain the light and keep the light refueled with lard oil.
However, the shifting sands on the point continued to grow until it was of no use to navigation. The 67-foot tower for the second light was built in 1873 and finished in time for the shipping season in 1876. The tower was built at the points end and protected by rock-filled timber cribs. A life-saving station was built nearby.
During the reconstruction, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed and is still in place. The light was powered by kerosene until 1935 when it was converted to electricity. The 200,000 candle power light can be seen for 16 miles out into Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay. The fourth-order Fresnel lens is still in place. Today a foghorn is in place at the point which is almost a mile away from the light tower.
Double Dwelling At Tawas Point Light
For years there were two keepers houses at Tawas Point Light. Assistant keepers lived in temporary quarters that were little more than shacks. In 1921 the house from the Ecorse Light Station on the Detroit River was moved to the site. It was converted into a two-family residence. Lightkeepers and Coast Guard personnel lived in the double dwelling until 1993. It was removed in 2002.
The Tawas Point Light Oil House
The Tawas Point Light’s fuel was previously kept in an oil room in the keeper’s house. The Lighthouse Service switched from lard oil to extremely flammable mineral oil (kerosene) in the 1870s, but it wasn’t until 1898 that the Tawas lightkeepers got a separate storage structure for their fuel.
In 1898, a three-man crew from Detroit completed the oil house in four and a half days. They adopted a design that has been employed for over two decades in Great Lakes light stations.
Tawas Point Lighthouse Tower Climb Video
The Michigan History Center has produced a video that offers viewers a virtual tour of climbing the lighthouse tower. As each step is made up of the tower, bits of history and fascinating design and functional aspects of the lighthouse are revealed. In the end, there is a little test you can take to on seven of the little aspects of the Tawas Point Lighthouse.
Fun Activities at the Tawas Point Lighthouse
Today the lighthouse is part of Tawas Point State Park, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources maintains responsibly for the lighthouse structure and grounds. Lighthouse tours are led during most weekends each summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There are also special events, such as the Tawas Point Haunted Lighthouse weekend, in October.
Hike Along the Point On the Sandy Hook Nature Trail
Tawas Point has long been referred to as the Midwest’s Cape Cod. The changing sand has created a natural land hook that includes sandy beaches, wetlands, tiny dunes, and a variety of species. The Sandy Hook Trail stretches about 12 miles along Tawas Point, a two-mile land that separates Tawas Bay from Lake Huron. The trail is predominantly sand, with a few boardwalk sections to preserve eroding portions.
Tawas Point is home to red foxes, white-tailed deer, turtles, and snakes, among other animals. In addition, the route, which is designated as an important bird area, allows visitors to witness over 300 species of migrating birds in the spring and fall.