FGC's Home Page :: Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
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 trafficincluding 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 Superiorthe 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
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 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 keepers 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
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 worldwas
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 Newtons explanation
of light; and developed a compound lensthe Fresnel lensthat
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
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-dAvray,
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 Superiors fierce storms and the
regions long, harsh winters took their toll on the lights
Deteriorated well beyond the point of repair in 1865, the U.S. Congress
appropriated $13,000 for the construction of a sturdier replacement.
The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse.
(Courtesy of the State of Michigan Historical Preservation Office)
In 1866, the weather-beaten light tower
and keepers house were torn down and replaced by a sturdier, brick-and-stone
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.
of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
||R. J. Graverat
The exterior of the 1.5-story structure consisted
of stout, foot-thick, brick walls. The first floor included a keepers
bedroom, kitchen, woodshed, and oil room. The half-story attic included
a large bedroom for the keepers children and a smaller storage
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,
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 morning...it is quite important
that the light should be kept by a sober man as well as an
Certain 'Pot House' politicians here have
recommended...the appointment of Henry Graveraetan old
man of over seventy years, dissipated and an imbecile, and
we protest most earnestly and respectfully against any such
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 suppliesparticularly coal
and woodup 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.
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
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.
||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 Pointan expansive rocky outcrop overlooking
Marquette Harborthis 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.
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 museumwhich occupies the City's old, sandstone waterworks
buildingis conveniently located at the corner of East Ridge
Street and Lakeshore Drive, opposite the newly-constructed U.S. Coast
300 Lakeshore Boulevard
Marquette, Michigan 49855
Marquette Harbor Lighthouse Global
Positioning System (GPS) coordinates:
32 48 North
Horizontal map datumWorld
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 dutys 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 oer the deep
Are safely borne, landed upon the beach,
And, in fulfilment of Gods mercy, lodged
Within the sheltering Lighthouse.Shout, ye Waves
William Wordsworth, 1770-1850
Grace Darling (1843) poem, lines 19-24 and 75-82
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