The Fog Signal below the Beaver Head bluff, still operating in 1943.
THE BEAVERHEAD LIGHTHOUSE
In the middle of the 19th century, navigation on Lake Michigan was steadily increasing. In Washington, it was decided that a lighthouse was needed in the Beaver Island Archipelago to aid the growing number of ships that were sailing from Chicago to the Straits of Mackinac.
President Millard Fillmore laid aside a tract of land on Beaver Island comprising of 158.2 acres on November 21, 1850. Located at the southern end of Beaver Island, Beaver Head marked the west side of the approach most used by vessels passing from Lake Michigan into the Straits of Mackinac. Only after the building was completed did officials find it had been erected two miles east of the federally designated land. It took a presidential order in 1954 for President Dwight Eisenhower to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile the Beaver Head Lighthouse was a working “light” from 1852 until it was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1962, when a radio beacon was constructed at the site. Many lighthouse keepers and their families lived and worked at the site, some Island born, some from as far away as Texas.
Between 1963 and 1970, a private owner used the Keepers Dwelling as a hunting club. The property was vacant until 1975 when Charlevoix Public Schools purchased the site for $1. Charlevoix Public Schools used the facility as an Environmental Education Center until 2016. In 2019, the Lighthouse property was purchased by Charlevoix County & Networks Northwest.
The Beaver Head Lighthouse has undergone restoration over the years, and the current structure is still under renovation. The Lighthouse tower is open to the public, and many have climbed its winding stairway to view the northern waters of Lake Michigan, where this Lighthouse served such a critical role in the safety of shipping for over a century.
A lighthouse keeper and his family outside the Beaver Head Lighthouse in 1903.
Image taken of the Beaver Head Lighthouse from off shore when it was still operational.
We are finally ready to move forward on restoration and preservation of the Beaver Head Lighthouse! Please join us as we begin this exciting project; you can make a difference by donating today. The Beaver Island Historical Society, in collaboration with Charlevoix County and Networks Northwest, is fundraising to bring a group of historical preservation experts to the island in the summer of 2022. Eastern Michigan University's Historic Preservation Graduate Field School will assess the preservation needs of our Beaver Head Lighthouse, the third oldest on the Great Lakes.
Our vision is for the lighthouse to be restored and sustainable. We have many ideas for public access including a museum in the Keeper's House attached to the lighthouse.
Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation Program (EMU HPP) conducts an annual one-week, hands-on field school with about twenty students, two faculty members, and a field school managers assist in the preservation and/or restoration of an historic structure or its contents. The Field School introduces a variety of preservation and restoration techniques such as masonry, plastering, painting, cataloguing of artefacts, documenting the historic structure, and much more.
For more information about the program visit: https://www.emich.edu/geography-geology/programs/historic-preservation/glance.php
The Beaver Island Historical Society will host Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation Program May 20-28, 2023.
For more information please view the EMU newsletter and 2022 Report.
The Whisky Point Light was first built on Beaver Island in 1856 in order to sup port St. James Harbor which was seen as a “safe haven” from storms in the 1850’s. In 1867, the Lighthouse Board determined the harbor to be “indifferently lit” and a taller tower was built in 1870. The new light housed a new and powerful 4th-Order Fresnel lens. Several keepers served the Light until the lens was automated in 1927. This included the Island’s first female keeper, Elizabeth Whitney VanRiper (Williams). She was established as the keeper in 1872 after her husband Clement Van Riper perished while trying to rescue the crew of the Thomas Howland. She served the lighthouse for 12 years and is noted as a ‘Michigan’s Ladies of the Lights’, joining the ranks of the courageous spirited women who served as lighthouse keepers in Michigan.
Squaw Island is just a half-mile long, but being the northernmost island in the Beaver Island archipelago, it was a natural location for a lighthouse. In 1880, the U.S. House of Representatives considered providing for the construction of a lighthouse, but chose not to fund the project. Seven years later, the Lighthouse Board changed its mind as steamships were becoming the dominant vessel on the Great Lakes, and work began on the lighthouse in 1892. The lighthouse was in operation until 1928. The property passed into private hands after the government sought to divest the lighthouse in 1936. In 2016, ninety-seven-year-old Tom Child, who had owned the lighthouse since 1964, decided to restore the property. It remains in private hands to today.
Plan your visit
26275 Main Street
Beaver Island, MI 49782
Phone: (231) 448-2254
To plan your trip to Beaver Island, visit: www.beaverisland.org