Where: Rogers City and Alpena, Michigan
Trip Date: 6/24-6/27/17
40 Mile Point
Once we returned to the mainland we headed south on US-23 along Michigan’s eastern coast and Lake Huron towards Alpena and Thunder Bay. Before arriving, however, we made a detour to 40 Mile Point Lighthouse near Rogers City—so named because of its location approximately forty miles south of Old Mackinac Point and forty miles north of Thunder Bay.
The 52-foot lighthouse was built in 1896 to fill in a fifty-mile gap between lighthouses in a frequently trafficked area of Lake Huron. Similar to Grand Traverse Lighthouse, 40 Mile Point is a multi-story house with a square tower in the front center facing the lake.
In 1905 the steamer Joseph S. Fay was heading south on Lake Huron with another ship in tow. During rough seas near 40 Mile Point the ship in tow broke free, tearing away a portion of the Fay’s hull. The captain managed to beach the ship saving most of the crew, and a portion of the ship’s remains is visible to this day. We discovered what was left of the Fay’s hull—a section nearly 150 feet long—only a few hundred feet up the beach from the lighthouse, the wooden boards and metal pegs protruding from the sand like a skeleton.
We continued south to our hotel outside of Alpena for the evening, and got up the next morning with the intention of taking a glass-bottomed boat tour of Thunder Bay at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. However, living up to its name, a thunderstorm in Thunder Bay put a damper on that plan. Instead, we opted to go find some more lighthouses. It was amazing how fast the weather changed only a few miles out of Alpena. By the time we had reached Presque Isle (still pronounced with the original French: Eel) the sun was out and the sky was bright blue.
Presque Isle contains two lighthouses, only a mile away from each other. The first is Old Presque Isle Light, built in 1840. The 30-foot stone and brick tower is one of the oldest surviving lights on the Great Lakes. Unlike many lighthouses I have seen, the tower stands completely separate from the keeper’s quarters, and the spiral steps within are made entirely from worn stone, instead of the cast iron to which I am so accustomed.
After only thirty years the keeper’s quarters were badly in need of renovation. Somehow, it was decided that it was more cost-effective, or simpler, just to construct a completely new lighthouse. So, in 1871 the New Presque Isle Lighthouse went into operation (“new” is a relative term). New Presque Isle Light is 113 feet tall—the tallest lighthouse that can be publicly climbed in Michigan, and the fifth tallest in the state, if I remember correctly. It was definitely quite a workout to climb.
In Alpena the next day the weather had finally cleared up enough to venture into Thunder Bay. On the glass-bottom boat tour we were treated to wonderful views through the clear blue water to some of the bay’s many shipwrecks. These wrecks included the New Orleans—which sank in 1849, making it one of the oldest identified wrecks in the area—and the Monohansett—a lumber barge that burned and sank in 1907.
The tour also provided us with a wonderful view of the Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse, the second oldest lighthouse still standing on Lake Huron (the original structure was built in 1832, and though slightly modified, it still remains).
Heading back to the docks we passed the Alpena Lighthouse, a small light marking the mouth of the Thunder Bay River. This unique tower is also affectionately referred to as “Little Red” and occasionally “Sputnik,” for obvious reasons.
Leaving Alpena the next morning, we turned south once more.
Finally, the thing that started this whole crazy road trip: Adventures in lighthouse keeping and an in-depth look at Tawas Point Lighthouse.