Holland Harbor Pierhead Light

Aug. 27, 2019

Holland Harbor Pierhead Light, Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan

Original wooden structure (Holland (Black Lake) Range Ninth Naval District) was built in 1872, with improvements made, including a new light tower.  The current structure, known as "Big Red" was built in 1907, and automated in 1932.


Station Established: 1872
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1936
Operational? YES
Automated? 1932
Deactivated: N/A
Foundation Materials: PIER
Construction Materials: WOOD
Tower Shape: SQUARE 
Relationship to Other Structure: INTEGRAL

Historical Information:

  • Reverend A. C. Van Raalte was searching for a permanent settlement for himself and his Dutch followers. He decided on Black Lake. The entrance to Black Lake from Lake Michigan was blocked by a sand bar. He turned to the government to help. When that avenue failed the Dutch settlers dug the new channel themselves. On July 1, 1859, the steamboat “Huron” put into port.
  • In 1867 two piers were built to protect the channel. It was recommended a light be put at the end of the piers to mark the channel for vessels. A 27 foot tall timber beacon was built on the longer south pier. The upper part of the structure was enclosed to give the Keeper a bit of protection if he was at the light in unfavorable conditions.
  • Waves frequently washed over the pier so the need arose for a raised walkway. It was added in 1874. At an unknown date a keeper’s quarters were built near the pier.
  • In 1902 a steel tower replaced the wooden light. The wooden walkway was also replaced by steel in 1903. A storm in 1904 caused the water to move the crib the light was built on. Fearing the tower would fall, the tower was dismantled and sent off for repairs. When the tower was fixed it returned to its place at the end of the pier.
  • A fog building was built in 1907. The style of the building pays homage to the Dutch heritage in the area. Even though a Keeper’s house was already built on land, living space was added to the second story of the fog building. A second tower was added to the breakwater to form range lights in 1916.
  • The lights were electrified and automated in 1932. A square tower was built on the west end of the fog building roof and the steel beacon was removed from the pier in 1936.
  • In 1956 the Coast Guard painted the structure red and the locals gave it the nickname “Big Red”. The Coast Guard recommended the structure be abandoned in 1970. The local citizens founded the Holland Harbor Historical Lighthouse Commission to preserve and restore the light. The original Fresnel lens is on display at the Netherlands Museum in Holland, Michigan.
  • The light is still an active aid to navigation and is open to the public.

Researched and written by Melissa Buckler, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.