Beacon Lit Over Straits
Each night for about 100 years, the Lake Michigan bluff just west of Mackinaw City has been in darkness. That all changed Saturday, May 30, when the 140-yearold McGulpin Point Lighthouse, topped with a new lantern, was placed into service for sailors at a public lighting ceremony, and once again will mark the west entrance to the Straits.
The leadership of the Emmet County Commission, its Historical Commission, and a partnership with the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association made possible the preservation of the historic lighthouse, say project organizers. The efforts of the organizations, they say, are examples of the possibilities that can take place in the region to reignite history and preserve culture.
"What is so impressive, I believe, is Emmet County stepping forward and acquiring the property," said Dr. Bill Anderson, retired director of the Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries. "That is really rare, especially in this tough time when people are walking away from cultural and historic assets. They are an exemplary example of historic preservation and the commitment to it."
"I've long been a proponent of our maritime heritage and capitalizing on it," he said. "Maritime heritage is one of the great strengths and one of the pieces of our history."
The historic value of the land and the lighthouse is important to future generations, said Frank Ettawageshik, chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Historically, the land was used by Native Americans and travelers, both before and after the lighthouse was constructed.
"We think it's important to know history," he said. "It is a guide to working out the issues of the future."
The tribe, said Chairman Ettawageshik, is appreciative of the work the county has done to make the relighting of the beacon possible.
"For us to have the county put so much energy into preserving this history and to helping people learn where we've been, so that we can help guide where we are going, it's really important."
"It is a shining example of what difference a county can make or a municipality can make," she said, "if they come to the plate and they see the history that they can preserve. Emmet County has done it and I hope other counties and municipalities look at it and say, 'Hey, we can do that, too. We can make a difference.' It's a good thing."
The village has worked with the county on several other projects, including the historic village attraction, said Mackinaw City Manager Jeff Lawson, who was dressed in period garb at the lighting ceremony to represent Patrick McGulpin. In 1811, Mr. McGulpin was deeded the land where the lighthouse stands by President James Madison.
Almost 200 years later, standing next to the lighthouse, Mr. Lawson said the county's investment will benefit residents and visitors and add to the historical sites already available for the public to experience, including Colonial Michilimackinac, the decommissioned Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
"It's important not only for the whole county," he said, "but for the Village itself. It's a real benefit for us. It brings another historical cultural level to us here. That is really what we are trying to create here. The Village is not just someplace to visit, but to really have an experience, so this really helps with that."
Having the lighthouse operational and open to the public is a benefit to the entire Straits region, including those living north of the Mackinac Bridge, said Emmet County Commission Chair Jim Tamlyn. Those in St. Ignace, he said, will have a better view of the light at night than those living in Emmet County.
"Once we looked at it," he said of the commission, "we said there is nothing more important than this piece of property in the Straits area."
Construction began on the Norman Gothic-style lighthouse in 1868. It served as a navigational aid from 1869 until 1906, when it was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The lighthouse now is considered a private aid to navigation, said Captain Mark Huebschman, Coast Guard sector commander from Sault Ste. Marie. The beacon will be maintained by Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers, and not the Coast Guard. The lighthouse will be listed on navigational charts to help mark the waterway, he said, although with advancements in maritime navigational technology meaning most ships are equipped with a suite of electronics, the lighthouse is not needed for navigation purposes.
"From the Coast Guard's perspective," said Captain Huebschman, "it's great to see this light being relit from an historical perspective because the lighthouse service was such an important of our history. We have so many of these structures all across the country; many of them have fallen into disrepair just because of lack of funding. It's really neat to see an important part of our history come back to life after 100 years of being extinguished."
Dick Moehl, president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, served as master of ceremonies Saturday.
"It's just a fantastic day," he said. "It's good for everybody. It's a wonderful event for the area and it's a wonderful maritime happening."
Activities were interrupted briefly Saturday by a passing rain shower that sent attendees running for cover under tents and umbrellas. About 1,000 lighthouse enthusiasts, local residents, and visitors attended the ceremony and toured the site, said Mr. Tamlyn. Members of the Peppler and McGulpin families attending included Sharon Niesen, Elna Niesen Bishop, Sherri Aring, Larissa Peppler, Pat Peppler, Nadia Peppler, Phillip Peppler, Peggy Peppler Persand, Gavin Peppler, Skylar Peppler, and Carmel Peppler. Also in attendance were county and village officials, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, State Senator Jason Allen, State Representative Gary McDowell, and aides representing U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak and U.S. Senator Carl Levin. Mary Steward Adams presented a poem dedicated to the lighthouse. Invocations were offered by Pastor Dave Wallis of the Church of the Straits and Mr. Ettawageshik. The benediction was from Sister Chris Herald of St. Anthony's Catholic Church.