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The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse


The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, as rebuilt in 1866. A second story was added in 1910. (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

Originally called Iron Bay, Marquette Harbor has been a hub of vessel activity since rich deposits of iron ore were discovered in the Marquette Range on September 19, 1844, by William A. Burt, a survey crew leader with the U.S. Government.

In response to increased harbor traffic—including vessels supporting the fledgling iron ore industry as well as storm-tossed ships seeking the safety of one of the few harbors of refuge along the south shore of Lake Superior—the U.S. Congress authorized $5,000 for the construction of a lighthouse at Marquette Harbor.

Even more vessel traffic was expected along the south shore of the lake when construction on the Ship Canal on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan would be completed in 1855.

Construction on the lighthouse spanned nearly the entire shipping season of 1852. Harvey Moore, the first keeper of the Marquette Harbor Light Station, lit the tower's kerosene lamps for the first time in June of 1853. Moore would server at the station until 1857, when John Roussain would assume command of the light.

Lighthouse Point and the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Click on photo for high-resolution imagery. (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

Over the years, the lighthouse situated atop Lighthouse Point at the entrance to Marquette Harbor has been referred to by a variety of names:

    • Marquette Light
    • Marquette Lighthouse
    • Marquette Light Station
    • Marquette Harbor Light
    • Marquette Harbor Light Station
    • Marquette Harbor Lighthouse




Lighthouse Point and the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. (Courtesy of the US Coast Guard)

When completed, the lighthouse compound situated on Lighthouse Point consisted of a short, rubble-stone light tower and a 24- by 30-foot, wood-framed keeper’s house nearby.

When first constructed, the lantern room in the light tower was illuminated by seven Winslow Lewis lamps, each of which were equipped with a 14-inch-diameter, highly-polished reflector designed to maximize the amount of light shown lakeward.

  A fourth-order Fresnel lens (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

In 1856, the lamp reflector assemblies were replaced with a handcrafted, sixth-order Fresnel lens. Invented by Augustine Fresnel, the French-made lens was illuminated by a kerosene lantern.

Augustine Jean Fresnel (pronounced fray-NEL)—the inventor of the Fresnel lens used in lighthouses across the world—was a brilliant, nineteenth-century French scientist, physicist, and civil engineer (road builder) known for his theoretical and applied work with optics.

A mathematician and optician, he investigated interference, reflection, refraction, double refraction, and polarization; established the wave theory of light, which replaced Isaac Newton’s explanation of light; and developed a compound lens—the Fresnel lens—that revolutionized lighthouse beacons.

Fresnel was born in Broglie, France on May 10, 1788. His parents, Jacques Fresnel, an architect, and Augustine Merimee, were both strict adherents to Jansenism, a reform movement sect within the Roman Catholic Church.

Lighthouse Point and the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Click on photo for high-resolution imagery. (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

His upbringing was strict and religious. The second of four sons, he received his elementary education at home. He then studied at Ecole Centrale in Caen, Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, and Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees, an engineering school in Paris.

Fresnel was the secretary of the French Lighthouse Commission (Commission Des Phares), an elected member of the French Academy of Sciences (Academie de Science), and a fellow of The Royal Society in London, which awarded him the prestigious Rumford Medal on his deathbed. Metz, France, officials named a street after him.

Plagued with illness and fatigue from early childhood, Fresnel died of consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of 39 in Ville-d’Avray, France, on Bastille Day, July 14, 1827.

With a fixed, white light visible through a 190-degree arc, the light could be seen from up to 10 miles away in good weather.

After a few short years, Lake Superior’s fierce storms and the region’s long, harsh winters took their toll on the light’s substandard construction.

Deteriorated well beyond the point of repair in 1865, the U.S. Congress appropriated $13,000 for the construction of a sturdier replacement.


Lighthouse rebuilt in 1866

The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. (Courtesy of the State of Michigan Historical Preservation Office)
In 1866, the weather-beaten light tower and keeper’s house were torn down and replaced by a sturdier, brick-and-stone structure.

Completed in one season, the new structure followed boilerplate, schoolhouse-style plans that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were using to construct similar lighthouses elsewhere on the Lake Superior:

    • Gull Rock Light (1867)
    • Grand Island North Light (1867)
    • Huron Island Light (1868)
    • Granite Island Light (1868)
    • Ontonagon Light (1867)
    • Copper Harbor Light (1866)

To prepare the solid bedrock for a 20-inch-thick foundation of dressed stone and hewn timbers, workers were required to do considerable blasting.

Since the shallow basement would house a root cellar for storing fruits and vegetables as well as a cistern for caching rainwater collected from the gutter-equipped roof, an insulating air-chamber was built into the foundation wall to protect provisions from freezing temperatures during the area's long, cold winters.

  Lightkeepers of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
  Harvey Moore 1853-1857
  John Roussain 1857-1859
  R. J. Graverat 1859-1861
  Nelson Truckey 1861-1862
  Anastasia M. Truckey 1862-1865
  John W. Cowles 1865-1869
  Clark Earle 1869-1873
  Samuel L. Barney 1873-1877
  Philip Morgan 1877-1882
  Patrick H. McGuire 1882-1893
  William H. Wheatleay 1893-1898
  Robert Carlson 1898-1903
  Charles Kimball 1903-1925
  Frank G. Sommer 1925-1947
  Stanley W. Clark 1947-1951

The exterior of the 1.5-story structure consisted of stout, foot-thick, brick walls. The first floor included a keeper’s bedroom, kitchen, woodshed, and oil room. The half-story attic included a large bedroom for the keeper’s children and a smaller storage room.

A 9-foot-square, integral, masonry tower with 13-inch-thick walls was constructed adjacent to the center of the front, or harbor side, of the keeper's house. A 42-step, cast-iron, spiral staircase with four landings led to the top of the 38-foot-tall tower.

A square gallery atop the tower supported a decagonal (10-sided), 7-foot-diameter, cast-iron lantern room, the six westernmost panels of which were blacked out, creating an illumination arc of 144 degrees.

In 1870, the number of blacked-out panels was reduced to four to increase the light's illumination arc to 216 degrees.

The lantern room was capped by a dome with a ventilator ball. Airflow in the lantern room was controlled by five brass ventilators. A parapet wrapped around the exterior of the lantern room.


Political appointees as keepers

During the first 38 years of its existence, the Marquette Harbor Light was manned by political appointees. Incompetence and dereliction of duty were a common problem, as this 1859 letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Board from Peter White, a prominent Marquette businessman and community leader, attests:

Great complaint is made about the keeper of the light at this place. He is a habitual drunkard, frequently thrashes his wife and throws her out of doors. He has several times failed to light up till near is quite important that the light should be kept by a sober man as well as an efficient one.

Certain 'Pot House' politicians here have recommended...the appointment of Henry Graveraet—an old man of over seventy years, dissipated and an imbecile, and we protest most earnestly and respectfully against any such appointment.


Inside the lantern room was a classic, fourth-order Fresnel lens illuminated by a kerosene lamp. The entire apparatus was rotated by a clockwork mechanism manufactured by the Paris, France-based firm of Barbier, Benard, & Turenne.

At some 77 feet above the surface of Lake Superior, the lamp was reportedly visible from 16 miles out on the lake in good weather.

Between 1866 and 1875, a 2,000-foot-long, timber-crib break wall was constructed in the Harbor. It jutted out from the southwestern corner of Lighthouse Point.

A hand-operated tramway was constructed behind, or west of, the lighthouse in 1870 to ease the chore of hauling supplies—particularly coal and wood—up the steep escarpment. At the same time, a brick service building was added to the west wall of the lighthouse, and a barn was constructed on low plateau just west of the lighthouse.

In 1873 and 1881, buildings housing ten-inch, steam-powered fog sirens were constructed along the shore of Lighthouse Point. An elevated, wooden catwalk ran between the lighthouse and the fog signal building on the point.

A US Life-Saving Service station staffed by eight surfmen and a captain was added just southwest of the lighthouse in 1891. The barn just west of the lighthouse was renovated into living quarters for the assistant light keepers in 1895.

When city water became available in 1894, the lightkeeper discontinued drawing drinking water directly for the lake. In 1896, a timber break wall was constructed in Presque Isle Harbor, north of the Lighthouse.

In 1902, dormers were added to the half-story attic for better, natural lighting and additional room. The kerosene lamp in the lantern room was replaced by an incandescent, oil-vapor lamp in 1909.

  The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Click on photo for high-resolution imagery. (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

In 1910, the keeper's house attached to the brick light tower underwent extensive renovation. To expand its living quarters in the half-story attic, a full-height, hip-roofed second story was added.

When municipal-generated electricity reached the lighthouse 1927, the light was automated. Since than, a variety of lights have been used for illumination, including: a 36-inch-diameter, 700,000-candlepower, Westinghouse Airway Beacon; direction code beacons such as the DCB-36 and DCB-24 aerobeacons; and a 12-inch acrylic-type aerobeacon.

The lighthouse compound served as a Coast Guard training facility During WWII, with upwards of 300 recruits quartered and trained at the facility.

  The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Click on photo for high-resolution imagery. (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

During the 1950s, additional structures were attached to the west-facing, rear wall of the lighthouse.

The Marquette Harbor Light Station was placed on Michigan's Register of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and 1984, respectively.






The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse today

  Lighthouse Point and the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Click on photo for high-resolution imagery. (Courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers)

Sitting atop Lighthouse Point—an expansive rocky outcrop overlooking Marquette Harbor—this imposing, cherry-red lighthouse and 2.5-story, church-style keeper's house are acclaimed as one of Lake Superior's most picturesque lighthouses.

It often serves as a model for photographers and artists from across the Midwest, amateur and professional alike.

While the keeper's house has been vacant since 1996, the light continues to emit a flashing white light every 10 seconds that is reportedly visible from 29 miles out in clear weather.

In 2002, the Marquette Maritime Museum entered into a 30-year lease with the US Coast Guard to maintain and operate the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse and its 2.5-acre compound.

  The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Click on photo for high-resolution imagery. (Courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

For more information about this historic lighthouse, Marquette's rich nautical history, and guided tours of the lighthouse compound, contact the Marquette Maritime Museum.

The museum—which occupies the City's old, sandstone waterworks building—is conveniently located at the corner of East Ridge Street and Lakeshore Drive, opposite the newly-constructed U.S. Coast Guard Station:

Marquette Maritime Museum
300 Lakeshore Boulevard
Marquette, Michigan 49855

Marquette Harbor Lighthouse Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates:
      Latitude—46° 32’ 48” North
      Longitude—87° 22’ 36” West
      Horizontal map datum—World Geodetic System of 1984 (WGS 84)



...Oh! that winds and waves could speak
Of things which their united power called forth
From the pure depths of her humanity!
A Maiden gentle, yet, at duty’s call,
Firm and unflinching, as the Lighthouse reared
On the Island-rock, her lonely dwelling-place...

...Every hazard faced
And difficulty mastered, with resolve
That no one breathing should be left to perish,
This last remainder of the crew are all
Placed in the little boat, then o’er the deep
Are safely borne, landed upon the beach,
And, in fulfilment of God’s mercy, lodged
Within the sheltering Lighthouse.—Shout, ye Waves
—William Wordsworth, 1770-1850
English poet
Grace Darling (1843) poem, lines 19-24 and 75-82


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