South Manitou Island Lighthouse, South Manitou Island, Lake Michigan, west of Leland, Leland County, Michigan
Built in 1872.
SOUTH MANITOU ISLAND LIGHT
SOUTH MANITOU ISLAND, MANITOU PASSAGE, LAKE MICHIGAN, MICHIGAN
Station Established: 1839
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1872
Foundation Materials: SCREW PILING WITH PLATFORM
Construction Materials: BRICK
Tower Shape: HEXAGONAL
Markings/Pattern: WHITE DWELLING WITH RED PILES
Relationship to Other Structure: INTEGRAL
Original Lens: THIRD ORDER FRESNEL
The Manitou Passage is between a band of small islands known as the Beaver Archipelago and the coast of Michigan. This passage can reduce the shipping distance between the southern shores of Lake Michigan and the Mackinaw Straits by almost sixty miles. South Manitou is the southerly end of the island chain. It offers ships shelter from the harsh conditions of the open seas of the Great Lake. The mouth of the Manitou Passage is narrow and therefore hard to navigate. The call for a light station rose and was answered. In 1839 construction began on the South Manitou site. A small keeper’s quarters was built with a lantern room on the roof of one end.
Responsibilities of the light station were not taken seriously. Soon trees had grown to obscure the light. By the 1850’s the house was in disrepair. Inspection reports went largely unnoticed. In 1857, the lens was to be replaced. Work crews found that replacing the entire site was the only viable option. Work began in 1858 on the new structure using plans for two lighthouses built on the Great Lakes previously, Port Washington and Grand Traverse. Built of “cream city bricks”, the keeper’s quarters had a wooden lantern affixed to one end of the roof which housed a fourth order Fresnel Lens.
At this time in US Lighthouse history, many of the previous antiquated light devices where being replaced with the new more power, more efficient Fresnel lens. By the end of the 1860’s it was evident that the small squat lighthouse was ineffective. A tower would be needed to light the passage. Work began in 1871 on a 65 foot brick tower. The house was retained and attached to the new tower with a covered walkway. The lantern was removed from the roof.
A Third Order Fresnel lens was shown for the first time in late September 1872. In 1875 the addition of a fog signal building was complete. It housed the first steam powered fog signal on Lake Michigan. The station was automated in 1935. In December 1958, the last keepers left the station. 1958 also saw the National Park Service mulling the idea of making the Sleeping Bear area a park. In 1970, this became official and the park service took over the light station.
The station remains in the care of the National Park Service and is open to the public. It has been restored and re-lit with a replica lens.
Researched and written by Melissa Buckler, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.