The Lighthouses Of Lake Michigan

The portion of Lake Michigan east of the Manitou Islands from Frankfort to Northport is the "Manitou Passage." For generations, it has been a "short cut" where a ship's captain could save time - enough time to make an additional six trips per year. It has also been known as a body of water made dangerous by shoals and rocks.

Over the last century, a series of lighthouses, lightships, buoys, life saving stations, and Coast Guard stations have been built and operated in this area to aid navigation. Of these, the Point Betsie Light and Life Saving Station, the Glen Haven Life Saving Station, the South Manitou Island Lighthouse, and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northport were the most important.

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South Manitou Lighthouse

The lighthouse of South Manitou was built in 1839 and was in operation until 1958. It is now owned by the National Park Service as a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In 2009, the South Manitou light was relit as a part of a project made possible by the partners of the National Lakeshore and the new National Park Service Centennial Initiative. If you go, you will take the ferry ( from Leland, an attractive harbor town which is about 27 miles north of the National Lakeshore's Visitors Center. The ferry trip will take you by "The Crib," a 75-foot light tower which was built in 1935 to mark the spot where the bottom of Lake Michigan suddenly rises to within 20 feet of the surface. For nearly 50 years, a three-man crew lived in the tower and took turns working for two weeks and going ashore for a week. This light is now automated and is not open to the public. In addition to seeing The Crib, you may hear its horn on a foggy day or night.

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Grand Traverse Light

Further north is the Grand Traverse Light which was built in 1850, which was first constructed in 1850.  By 1858, however, the old lighthouse had been deemed inadequate and a new one was built in the current location. A larger, fourth-order Fresnel lens, powered by Whale Oil and Kerosene, was installed in 1870 and used until electrified in 1953. In 1972 the tower light was replaced with an automated beacon mounted on a steel tower.

You can tour the lighthouse from May through October, and weekends in November. Hours vary. The cost is $5 for adults and $2 for children (ages 6 to 12), with children 5 and under free.

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