Lighthouses, Lifesaving Stations and Maritime History - Traverse City MI


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Published: June 16th 2015
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Typical Of Most Fairground Campgrounds – Few Trees, Little Space And Zero FrillsTypical Of Most Fairground Campgrounds – Few Trees, Little Space And Zero FrillsTypical Of Most Fairground Campgrounds – Few Trees, Little Space And Zero Frills

Northwest Michigan Fairgrounds Campground - Traverse City MI
Wednesday, May 27, 2015 was forecast to be an overcast, rainy day and the meteorological experts were mostly correct. The predicted rain, gratefully, varied from nothing to intermittent mists or light sprinkles. During teardown, I had an opportunity to chat with my Michigan neighbors who have sold their house and have moved into an apartment so they can be absent for carefree extended periods of time. That’s EXACTLY what Uncle Larry plans to do in ten years or so (hopefully) when The Great Adventurehas run its nomadic, enlightening, carefree course.

Teardown and the trip from Lakeside Resort Campground in Ionia MI to the Northwest Michigan Fairgrounds Campground in Traverse City MI were uneventful except for the need to engage the windshield wipers from time to time. My arrival at the campground found no response to my knock on the “Campground Host” camper’s door, so I selected a site and set up my rig. A couple of hours later, they returned, came to the Pilgrim and our business was completed.

My first order of business for the week was to become familiarized with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire MI. There are numerous attractions within the vast boundaries of the park that had caught my eye. If there is one ongoing beef I have with the National Park Service (NPS), it is that the directions to the facilities need to be catapulted into the 21st Century by including the GPS coordinates of the attraction on the facility web page – not deleting the written directions, but supplementing them. At any rate, I selected the park from Irene’s (my GPS’s) menu and set out for what usually is the park’s headquarters, visitor center or entry pay station. Long story short, that didn’t work AT ALL.

After driving MI 22 north from Empire without spotting any directional signs to any of the above, I instituted Plan B and headed north. As I passed through Leland MI, I made a stop at Fishtown, a unique historical site composed of weather-beaten fishing shanties and small shops along the mouth of the Leland (or Carp) River. The site has endured and adapted over the last 150 years as an ever-evolving working waterfront that still operates as one of the only antiquated commercial fishing villages in the State of Michigan. Although only a handful is still used for commercial fishing operations, most of the structures in Fishtown
Some Artifacts Are Located OutsideSome Artifacts Are Located OutsideSome Artifacts Are Located Outside

Grand Traverse Lighthouse - Northport MI
had their origins as commercial fishing buildings. These buildings served many purposes, including net-mending sheds, ice houses, smoke houses, and storage.

As I had anticipated, most the historic shanties are chock full of tee shirts and sundry other kinds of tourist souvenirs. Speckling the small attraction (that is only a couple of blocks off MI 22) are placards profiling some of the town’s notable characters. Fishing equipment, which I’ve not seen before, dots the landscape. I happened upon a fish store with signs hawking smoked fish. It drew me in to inquire about refrigeration requirements. Told the smoked varieties would keep for 8-10 hours in the temperatures that were expected that day, I asked the clerk for a recommendation. Expectedly, she recommended her favorite, the smoked lake trout, which, unexpectedly, was the least expensive of the four varieties in the display cooler. I bought about a pound, which, with a side dish, made two very tasty meals.

Resuming my journey northward, I reached the Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northport MI. The second Grand Traverse lighthouse was built in 1858, and the fog signal building, as well as an assistant keeper to man the fog horn, was added in 1899. The
I Don’t Think The Building Is The Lighthouse Keepers QuartersI Don’t Think The Building Is The Lighthouse Keepers QuartersI Don’t Think The Building Is The Lighthouse Keepers Quarters

Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse - Empire MI
steam whistles were powered by a wood and coal boiler than required 55 minutes to ready for service. In the keeper’s house, furnishings portray the era of the 1920s and 1930s when there was no electricity or running water in the building. On the second floor is a shipwrecks exhibit that primarily consists of placards with interesting narratives and photographs. Currently, the Lake Michigan Aircraft Carriers Exhibition is on display in the fog signal building. I had never considered the Great Lakes as a site for aircraft carrier training. The attraction is well done and worth the time and effort. A leisurely drive out onto the Leelanau Peninsula with several stops along the way would make a nice day trip.

I decided to return to Empire 1) because there was another lighthouse there (although my research indicated it to be quite mundane), and 2) because I had hopes that I had missed the sign for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park Headquarters. It turned out that, as I was navigating to the lighthouse, I stumbled upon a sign directing the public to the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center right in the heart of Empire. Okay, it’s an earthworm heart but a heart nonetheless! I performed the standard national park visitor center bill of fare, most notably getting an invaluable park map. I resumed my journey to the Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse and, as anticipated, found the small lighthouse quite unremarkable. Time to head home!

Friday, May 29, 2015 found me heading north on Old Mission Peninsula to visit the Mission Point Lighthouse in, all together now, Traverse City; however, this attraction is a long way from metro Traverse City. Admittedly, the countryside is sparsely populated and is loaded with agricultural efforts off varying types. Perhaps Traverse City is the closest post office. Regardless, the drive was pleasant in spite of the overcast skies. Along the walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse, I found the Hesler Log House (c. 1854), which is nicely furnished, and a placard with information about the 45th parallel – a couple hundred feet offshore from the lighthouse.

Congress appropriated $6,000 for the lighthouse on March 3, 1859, but land for the structure was not purchased until 1869, due, in part, to the Civil War. The lighthouse was lit for the first time on September 10, 1870 by Jerome M. Pratt. Each day, Pratt meticulously recorded the weather, wind direction, and the number of ships passing the point. In October 1870, 69 sailing ships and 51 steamers were noted passing the lighthouse, but five years later, things had reversed – 75 sailing ships and 101 steamers are recorded. The strength of this attraction is the informational placards that discuss the Fresnel lens and the duties of the light keeper as well as the history of the lighthouse. It’s nice that lighthouses have different foci and that all were not shaped by the same cookie cutter!

My next stop was the Music House Museum in Williamsburg MI. WOW! What a hidden jewel. I’m not even going to attempt to summarize the genesis and the evolution of this attraction, for the web site already describes the establishment about as succinctly as possible. The story is as incredible as the institution (explore the web site – it’s fascinating). All 1-½ to 2 hour tours are guided and continuous, thus the visitor can join the tour in progress at any point vs. waiting for a “magical hour.” The docents not only explain but also demonstrate many of the instruments. The crown jewel in the collection is the 1922 Mortier Dance “Amaryllis” Organ. It was built
The Keeper’s House Has Lots Of Space For ExhibitsThe Keeper’s House Has Lots Of Space For ExhibitsThe Keeper’s House Has Lots Of Space For Exhibits

Point Betsie Lighthouse - Empire MI
in Antwerp Belgium, is 32 feet wide and 18 feet tall and still has the original facade. In 2013, it underwent an $80,000 mechanical renovation by a Belgian company that reconditions Mortier instruments throughout the world to restore its 1924 sound and to clean the un-restored facade. This attraction is totally jaw-dropping, exceeded my wildest expectations and is an absolute must see.

My first stop on Sunday, May 31, 2015 was the Point Betsie Lighthouse in Empire. One building at Point Betsie houses artifacts, photographs and informational placards about the nearby lifesaving station (that is now privately owned). The light keeper’s quarters has some rooms with period furnishings while other rooms contain artifacts and placards addressing pre-Fresnel lens lighthouse illumination methods as well as the Fresnel lens technology. It is claimed by The Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse on its web site that Point Betsie is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States. Who would I be to argue the point? The lighthouse is nice and is worth the time and effort.

My second stop of the day was at the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum (NPS) in Glen Haven MI. On the walk to and inside the boathouse, one finds
The Boats Were Kept On A Trolley That Was Pulled To The LakleshoreThe Boats Were Kept On A Trolley That Was Pulled To The LakleshoreThe Boats Were Kept On A Trolley That Was Pulled To The Lakleshore

Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum - Glen Haven MI
informational placards with vintage photographs and drawings depicting lifesaving techniques of the day while inside the boathouse there is a comprehensive display of the lifesaving equipment depicted on the placards. According to the docent, lifesaving demonstrations are given weekly during peak season. Inside the lifesaving station, there are more placards and equipment depicting lifesaving techniques, and one room surveys daily life as a lifesaving crewman. One really unique feature is a replica 1920s era steamer’s pilot house with space-age technology such that the view out the pilot house window makes the vessel seem to be moving.. This would be a very worthwhile stop if planned to include a lifesaving drill.

My next stop was the village of Glen Haven. The once thriving village now has several stops for those with some extra time after departing the Maritime Museum. Glen Haven Cannery Boathouse Museum (NPS) houses a handful of vintage boats and a small collection of outboard motors as well as a small collection of commercial fishing equipment. I would be hard pressed to recommend this attraction to any but the most avid boating enthusiast. The Blacksmith Shop (NPS) is a typical blacksmith shop and interesting if one has never before seen a similar attraction.
Some Of the Boats Are Quite InterestingSome Of the Boats Are Quite InterestingSome Of the Boats Are Quite Interesting

Glen Haven Cannery Boathouse Museum - Glen Haven MI
On a walk around the village, one finds a couple of old buildings and a few interesting placards. There really is nothing remarkable that I could find in Glen Haven.

My final stop was not a stop at all but the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (NPS) also in Glen Haven. The loop runs for 7.4 miles through forest and dunes areas. Interpretive markers along the roadway are keyed to the National Park Service printed guide to the drive. The first stop is right up my alley – a covered bridge. Other stops provide background information about the native flora and fauna and afford scenic overlooks of the Lake Michigan shoreline and the sand dunes. I found it a nice relaxing way to end what had been a busy day.

I started off Monday, June 1, 2015 with all my bills paid, attempted unsuccessfully to find the History Center of Traverse City and then made a stop at Joshua's Crossing Covered Bridge in Lake Ann MI. This covered bridge is one of the most unique I have found in my travels but is found in one of the strangest locations I have encountered. The bridge is only feet from a major roadway and services what
An Interesting CupolaAn Interesting CupolaAn Interesting Cupola

Joshua's Crossing Covered Bridge - Lake Ann MI
appears to be a private driveway that leads to only one single dwelling. That gave me pause; however, there were no posted “Keep Out” signs, and there was no feasible place to turn around. Backing out blindly onto a major road wasn’t at the top of my agenda either. I crossed the bridge and found an uninhabited (and for sale) quaint, lakeside cabin or small house. What makes this bridge unique is a small cupola atop the roof with a bell and an instruction set, “Ring bell for blessings.” I complied and gently pulled the rope so as to remain as clandestine as possible, finished taking my pictures and departed. Cool, but eerie!

I planned quite an ambitious day for a scenic drive and a visit to a number of Lake Michigan lighthouses when the weather 1) cooperated and 2) had enabled me to complete my “A list” of major attractions before it was time to depart Traverse City. MapQuest had calculated the trip to be nearly 300 miles, but I decided I would accomplish what I could and enjoy what the clock afforded me. So, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 (my final day in Traverse City), I headed
A Life Ring From The Edmund FitzgeraldA Life Ring From The Edmund FitzgeraldA Life Ring From The Edmund Fitzgerald

White River Lighthouse - Whitehall MI
south on MI 37 through the countryside and the towns of Mesick, Baldwin and White Cloud before heading west to the White River Lighthouse in Whitehall MI. The lighthouse is interesting and has several unique artifacts including a life ring from the Edmund Fitzgerald, its original fourth order Fresnel lens and a cutaway to expose the weight and pulley system that rotated the beacon before the light was electrified. The light was placed into service on May 13, 1876 and decommissioned in 1960.

Driving north along the Lake Michigan shoreline on whichever roads Irene wanted me to use, I stopped at the Little Sable Point Lighthouse in Mears MI. The beacon shines from 108 feet above the lake, making it one of the taller lighthouses I have seen on the Great Lakes. After the light was automated in 1954, the keeper’s dwelling and all other buildings were razed. All that is there is the tower, but my, my, what a tower and what a view. I was prepared to go to the Big Sable Lighthouse and make a similar climb, but deferred to another day (actually another trip) when I learned the lighthouse necessitated a 1.6 mile walk over a sandy road. My legs
The Tower Remains But Everything Else Was RazedThe Tower Remains But Everything Else Was RazedThe Tower Remains But Everything Else Was Razed

Little Sable Point Lighthouse - Mears MI
thanked me.

My next stop was in Ludington MI at the Ludington North Pierhead Lighthouse. My experience with pierhead lights is that there is no ancillary building with artifacts or informational placards and that they are short and non-descript. Ludington fit the bill exactly. By this time, the Arcadia Historical Museum in Arcadia MI had closed for the day, and I was tired. I chose to forego the Manistee North Pierhead Lighthouse in Manistee MI and the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse in Frankfort MI. I had accomplished what I had set out to do on my last day in Traverse City – to take a relaxing drive through the Michigan countryside and then visit attractions until the luster had vanished (or the clock had expired) and then head home.

I had a nice time in Traverse City. There are, quite obviously, numerous lighthouses if that’s your cup of tea. The sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are impressive and interesting, the scenic drive is relaxing and the attractions within the park are well-presented (as are most NPS facilities). Reaching remote destinations, such as covered bridges and lighthouses, gives me an opportunity to get off the beaten path and experience America. Most of the downtown areas I encountered
Pierhead Lights Generally Are NondescriptPierhead Lights Generally Are NondescriptPierhead Lights Generally Are Nondescript

Ludington North Pierhead Lighthouse - Ludington MI
appear historic, well-preserved and interesting. The pace is relaxed and subdued, which is my second cup of tea! Many of the attractions, such as Fishtown and the Glen Haven Cannery Boathouse Museum, take only 15-20 minutes to experience. One, the Music House Museum, takes a full two hours but is worth every minute. Enjoy yourself as much as I did; and stop, get outta the car and smell the – lilacs!


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Art’s Tavern – Glen Arbor MI
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