Lighthouse To Become Museum
The old McGulpin Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City will be restored as a working lighthouse museum following its purchase by Emmet County, approved in a 6-1 vote by the county board Tuesday, June 10. The county will pay $720,000 for the lighthouse and grounds to the Peppler family of Mackinaw City, which has used the structure as a home. The deal is expected to be closed in July.
"This is a piece of Straits history," said Emmet County Commission Chairman Jim Tamlyn of the lighthouse. Its light, long gone, will someday glow again under the restoration program.
McGulpin Lighthouse, just east of Headlands Road, was decommissioned in 1906. Next year, the county intends to recreate the original light and its surrounding structure and send a beam of light across the Straits of Mackinac for the first time in more than 100 years, Mr. Tamlyn said.
Acquisition of the lighthouse will reopen an historic structure to the public, and also meets village residents' stated desire to preserve public access to Straits waterfront. The lighthouse property has 336 feet of waterfront.
To help pay to replace the light, the board will seek federal Aids to Navigation funding through the Lighthouse Preservation act of 2000.
"It is a rare and wonderful thing for one of these historic structures to come back into the public domain after over 100 years of private ownership," said Terry Pepper, executive director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association.
Lighthouses are a major draw to the area, he said. Last year, 32,933 people visited nearby Old Mackinac Point Light, the successor to the McGulpin Point Lighthouse, now operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks. The day before the commission's vote, a German tourist contacted Mr. Pepper directly, seeking entrance to McGulpin Lighthouse.
Mr. Pepper maintains a Web site about western Great Lakes lighthouses called "Seeing the Light" and recently made presentations about McGulpin Lighthouse to county commissioners and the village council.
In researching the idea, the assoon ciation could find only one other instance in the United States in which a government resumed ownership of a lighthouse that had been under private ownership, he told the Village Council Thursday, June 19.
The county plans to restore the building, now altered to serve as a comfortable, modern residence, to its original use and create a museum dedicated to the history of the lighthouse and the McGulpin family land claim. The land's known history dates to some of Michigan's first European inhabitants as well as use of the area by Native Americans.
The Emmet County Board of Commissioners became interested in the lighthouse while researching the original land claim during a land dispute on the western side of Headlands Road.
The land claim encompasses both the lighthouse and the Mackinaw Historic Village site. Documents predating the American Revolution reference the original claim by John McGulpin, for which McGulpin point is named, Mr. Tamlyn said. His son, Patrick McGulpin, inherited the land in 1760. In 1762, Patrick McGulpin's son, George, of European and Native American descent, was born on the property, said local historian Sandy Planisek. In 1810, the land was officially deeded to his Patrick McGulpin. It was the first piece of deeded land in Emmet County, Mr. Tamlyn said.
The McGulpin home was replaced by the lighthouse, construction of which began in 1868. On the night of June 18, 1869, its kerosene or colza-oil light was officially lit. Unlike others that rotated, it shone a constant beam across the western portion of the Straits. It was replaced by Old Mackinac Point Light in 1906, which could be seen in both the eastern and western portions of the Straits. For a few years, both lights shone across the water.
McGulpin lighthouse fell into private hands in the mid-1900s, and the federal lighthouse board, a frugal group, dismantled the lens and lantern, which was almost certainly used elsewhere, Mr. Pepper said. The board did not keep accurate records, so the lantern and its parts could be anywhere in the country. Sometimes, entire lighthouses were transported across the country and reused, he added.
McGulpin Lighthouse is built of cream-colored bricks in Norman Gothic style. Despite its modernized interior, evidence of its age remains, such as a noticeable curve in a short cement stairway inside, worn in by 139 years of foot travel.
Characteristics of the building's original purpose appear throughout the structure, including its well kept, metal, spiral stairway leading to a porthole in the tower.
As one of its first actions, the county board plans to set up a historical committee to oversee development of the building.
Recreating the light can be accomplished easily, Mr. Pepper said, and he has recommended that county commissioners purchase a new acrylic version of the lens from a Florida company.
Nestled in a tall forest and surrounded by a yard filled with lilac trees, the lighthouse property itself is nearly hidden from view. To make it visible from the Straits again, the commission plans to cut the tops of trees along the bluff.
This structure fits well with Mackinaw City's historical attractions, and the village is lucky to have another high quality site to offer, Mr. Tamlyn said.
"Usually, when these things are lost, they are lost forever," he said.