Lighthouse Keepers

Arriving at Forty Mile Point Lighthouse near Rogers City, Michigan was exciting especially since we had never volunteered at a lighthouse before. Of course our duties would be a lot different and easier than those listed above! As guest keepers our job was to inform the public about the history of the lighthouse and other structures on the property as well as work in the gift shop.

We pulled into one of four RV sites, our home for the next six weeks. A fire pit and plenty of wood was available for guest keepers. Lake Huron was right behind us!

Lake Huron, the connecting link to the four Great Lakes was known in the late 1880’s as “The Graveyard of Ships”. Many of its dangerous areas had lighthouses by which mariners could navigate. But an 18 mile section along the west shoreline of the lake from Presque Isle peninsula to the Cheybogan River was in darkness so boats were running blind. Therefore the Federal Lighthouse Board approved plans to build a lighthouse at Forty Mile Point. By 1896, the lighthouse was ready. The lighthouse sits forty miles southeast of Mackinaw Point, hence the name.

The lighthouse established 1896

The crown jewel of the park is the 4th Order Fresnel lens, that can be reached by climbing 53 steps to the top of the tower. It is the only 4th Order Lens still commissioned by the Coast Guard, still beaming a now automated light 3 seconds on/off about 16 miles across the lake.

The keeper’s house attached to the lighthouse tower is a two story duplex. One apartment was for the keeper, the other for the assistant keeper. The apartments are identical; six rooms and a full basement. Each apartment has a door leading to the lighthouse tower. Currently one apartment is occupied by a groundskeeper, the other is a museum and can be toured by visitors.

The first and oldest building on site is the bunkhouse, which was the living quarters of the builders of the lighthouse. It was later used as a barn and is now the gift shop.

Two outhouses and a fog signal building were also built in 1896. Originally the fog signals were steam powered whistles. These were replaced in the 1930’s with air horns. In 2005, replica horns were installed that are sounded by a recording.

The pilot house of the Calcite was added to the grounds in the 1990’s. The Calcite built in 1912 was one of the first self-unloading freighters to sail the Great Lakes. It was scrapped in 1961 but the pilot house was saved and restored by volunteers. It is a great hands on venue for kids as they get to ring bells and sound whistles.

The wreck of the Joseph S. Fay sits about 600ft offshore. The Fay was a wooden bulk freighter built in 1871 that ran aground in a storm in 1905 and sank. There was one fatality. A buoy marks the wreck in Lake Huron but a large portion of the starboard side is located on the beach just up the shore from the lighthouse. Visitors can kayak to the wreck or swim and snorkel or scuba dive to explore it.

We share our volunteer duties with other couples and solo volunteers. We man the gift shop, pilot house, keeper’s house and lighthouse lantern room. The buildings are open from 10am- 4pm. At the end of the day the volunteers gather around the campfire or attend the Friday night concert in Rogers City. We enjoy the camaraderie.

When we weren’t working we took it easy. Walking along the beach, kayaking, reading or looking for rocks and watching the freighters passing by.

Our time as guest keepers was a wonderful experience. We learned a lot about Michigan, the Great Lakes, lighthouses of Michigan and the history of freighters on the Great Lakes. Plus we met great people who are new friends. We will definitely be back in the future!

Drone photo by Jim W.

3 thoughts on “Lighthouse Keepers

  1. Thanks for posting a link to this post on Facebook. We knew you’d enjoy northern Michigan and it’s especially cool that you were able to be volunteer light keepers!
    We look forward to seeing you in a couple days as you make your way south through Ohio!


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