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Point Aux Barques Lighthouse, Port Austin, Michigan

Point Aux Barques Lighthouse, Port Austin, Michigan (Known places)

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Tags: lighthouse (39 pics)

Pointe aux Barques Light

The Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse ranks among the ten oldest lighthouses in Michigan. It is an active lighthouse maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron near Port Hope, Michigan in Huron County. "Pointe aux Barques" means 'Point of Little Boats', a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan's Thumb.


In the mid-1800s most travel was by sailing vessel. There were few or no roads, and only a few steamships were operating on the Great Lakes. Navigation was still primitive by today’s standards. Vessels followed the coastline of the lakes until there was a need to cross a large body of water, and then a compass and sextant were the major navigation tools.

Sailing schooners left Detroit and the St. Clair River and soon left the sight of the 1825 (195 years ago) Fort Gratiot Light and began the perilous trip north along the Lake Huron shore. The next light to the north was located at Thunder Bay Island (1832, 188 years ago), more than 150 miles (240 km) north of Fort Gratiot. Any vessel sailing up the Lake Huron coast stood a good chance of going aground on the reef extending out from Pointe aux Barques. The reef is only covered by some two feet of water and stuck out nearly two miles into Lake Huron.

Pointe aux Barques was also used as a turning point for vessels destined to the Saginaw River. Range lights had been established at the mouth of the Saginaw River as early as 1841 (179 years ago), but the trip to Saginaw Bay required steering clear of Pointe aux Barques reef.

The lighthouse was intended to be constructed near the Thumb's most northwestern point at Pointe Aux Barques however it was ultimately constructed approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east / southeast in what is now Huron Township.

President James K. Polk appropriated $5,000 to build the first lighthouse structure on Jul. 3, 1847 (173 years ago). The first keeper, Peter Shook and his family, moved in in 1848 (172 years ago). In 1849 (171 years ago) the keeper's dwelling burned to the ground. The first light tower was built on this location in 1847 (173 years ago), at a cost of $5,000. It was first lit for the 1848 (172 years ago) shipping season. The tower was poorly constructed and needed to be replaced after only 10 years.

The present 1857 (163 years ago) light is a conical white brick tower, 89 feet (27 m) tall, with a focal plane of 93 feet (28 m) above Lake Huron. A rotating Third Order Fresnel lens provided a flash every two minutes visible as far 16 miles (26 km) out on the lake. The tower is attached to a 2-story brick keeper’s dwelling by a matching brick passageway.

The new taller light tower helped guide vessels away from the hazardous reef, but wrecks continued to occur. In 1875 (145 years ago) a United States Life Saving Service station was built just south of the lighthouse.

An assistant keeper's house was added in 1908 (112 years ago), and the light was upgraded to an incandescent vapor lamp in 1914 (106 years ago). The change increased the lights range to 18 miles (29 km) over the lake, and further protection was added in 1918 (102 years ago) with the addition of a lighted bell buoy some two and a quarter miles off shore at the end of the point.

Electrification came to Point aux Barques in 1932 (88 years ago) and the incandescent light bulb in the Third Order lens with bullseyes provided an output of 120,000 candlepower. The Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the nation's aids to navigation in 1939 (81 years ago), and the way was paved for complete automation. The signal was further improved around 1950 (70 years ago) with the removal of the Fresnel lens and the installation of rotating DCB-224 aero beacons rated at 1,000,000 candlepower. Putting aside questions of nostalgia, aesthetics, or appreciation for the engineering of a bygone era (as exemplified by the Fresnel lens), this iteration of lighthouse illumination is itself incredibly effective, and an endangered remnant of another bygone era.


Located off M-25, seven miles (11 km) north of Port Hope and eleven miles (18 km) south of Port Austin on Lighthouse Road. It is a Huron County park. A campground is located adjacent to the base of the light. Visitors can easily spend the better part of a day touring the lighthouse grounds and museum or just enjoying the beauty of the Lake Huron shore.



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