St. James (Beaver Island Harbor) Light

Nov. 12, 2019

St. James (Beaver Island Harbor) Light, Lake Michigan, St. James, Michigan


Location: Charlevoix, Michigan (Western approach Mackinac Straights/Lake Michigan)
Station Established: 1852
Year Current Tower First Lit: 1870
Operational: Yes
Automated: 1927
Deactivated: N/A
Foundation Materials: N/A
Construction Materials: Brick
Tower Shape: Cylindrical
Markings/Pattern: White (originally yellow)
Relationship to Other Structure: Separate
Tower Height: 41
Original Lens: Fourth Order Fresnel
Height of Focal Plane: 38’

Historical Information:

1838: Whiskey Point got its name because the first white habitation clustered around a trading post that was built at the location. They made profits by trading provisions, mainly whiskey for the produce gathered from the archipelago. 
Early 1850’s: Paradise Bay eventually surpassed Mackinac Island as the economic center of northwestern Michigan in the early 1850’s. The harbor became a regular stopping and refueling point for boats between Chicago and Buffalo. The fishermen, fish buyers and shippers of sawmill products filled the harbor with dozens of boats each day.
1856: The second Beaver Island Lighthouse was built.
1870: A taller tower, standing at 41’, was built due to the mortar in the first tower being defective.
1874: Congress created the Life Saving Service, which was the precursor to the Coast Guard.
1915: The Life Saving Service merged with other agencies to form the Coast Guard.
1939: The Life Saving Service at Beaver Head was added to the Coast Guard. This station acted as the fire department, an elevated look-out station was built at Sucker Point to keep an eye on the Garden Island channel. Only phone on island was located at the Coast Guard station.
October 4, 2000: St. James Harbor Light received a completed Historic Property Lease. The lease is for 10 years, and is renewable for two additional 10 year periods. The lease provides an opportunity for the community to work on preserving the lighthouse. The Coast Guard will continue to operate the light as an active aid to navigation, while St. James Township will have control of the tower and the surrounding land. With the Historic Lease Agreement, the Township will be eligible to apply for grant funding to restore the lighthouse and grounds. The work will need to first be approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer.


* A taller tower, standing at 41’, was built in 1870 due to the mortar in the first tower being defective. After the new tower was built, a sequence of keepers took up residence in the keeper’s quarters. Peter McKinley, nephew of the President, was the second keeper, followed by Clement Van Riper. He died trying to save the crew of the Thomas Howland. His widow, Elizabeth Whitney, took up the position in his place. She was the author of the memoir of Mormon times, Child of the Sea. The last keeper, Emil Winter, was allowed to live at the keeper’s house with wife after the lighthouse was automated.
* Captain Owen Gallagher was in charge, and was followed by former Mormon “Tip” Miller. Miller was credited with saving the Martin brothers. Both men would need to put together a crew immediately from the available fishermen. Even with these difficulties, there was never a man lost during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
* This expanded the Service’s role on Beaver Island. Some Islanders enlisted in the ten-to-twelve man crew. John Andy Gallagher joined the station in 1934 and was stationed at Beaver Head.

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