Historic Restoration at Whitefish Point

Historic Restoration at Whitefish Point

Restored 1937 Fog Signal Building is inspected by officials of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, 2006

Since obtaining a license to conduct museum operations at Whitefish Point from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1983, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society has been continuously raising money to restore all of the nine historic structures on this National Historic Site.  Full ownership of the site was patented to the Shipwreck Society from the Federal Government in 1996.  To date, the Shipwreck Society has successfully completed restoration of:

1861 Lightkeepers Quarters
1861 Oil House
1910 Alcohol House
1923 Lookout Tower
1923 Surfboat House
1923 Crews Quarters Building
1937 Fog Signal Building

Restoration of these structures remains in progress:

1861 Light Tower
1929 U.S. Navy Radio Station Barracks Building

Major funding for historic restoration and exhibits has been generously provided by:

Federal Highway Administration
Institute of Museum and Library Services
Michigan Department of Transportation
Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program
Michigan Coastal Management Program
Michigan Bicentennial Lighthouse Fund
Americana Foundation

The above grants have all required a private match, typically on a 1 to 1 basis. The only source the Shipwreck Society has for matching funds is the private sector.

Contributions to historic restoration projects at Whitefish Point are tax deductible. For information on making a contribution, please visit the contact information section of this page.

Whitefish Point Light Restoration

Mihm Enterprises working on scaffold to finish underside of watch deck, September 2009

Mihm Enterprises working on scaffold to finish underside of watch deck, September 2009

The Whitefish Point “iron-pile” lighthouse was constructed to replace Whitefish Point’s original stone tower which existed from 1849 until 1860 – the severe winds experienced here proved too much for its basic masonry construction.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service successfully passed a bill through Congress in 1860 that allowed for the construction of many new lighthouses, including three on Lake Superior to light the way for the copper and iron ore trade.  Lighthouses identical to Whitefish Point were built at Manitou Island and at DeTour, Michigan.

An Ohio contractor followed the exact specifications of the Lighthouse Board, commencing his work on the light during President Lincoln’s administration in 1861.  This lighthouse is strictly built of iron and copper – steel was too new to be trusted.  The “piles” that have held it firmly against hurricane-force winds for so very long are not hollow pipes – they are heavy, steel, cylinders, designed to distribute forces against the tower evenly to its foundation.  The designers of the tower would be astonished to know how long it has continued to function in its original purpose.

The tower has had a series of lenses illuminated by a variety of methods.  In August 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard replaced the 1968 Crouse & Hinds aerobeacon with a state of the art 15-mile LED lens; the lens immediately preceding the aerobeacon was a third and a half order half-bivalve Fresnel lens that functioned from 1895 to 1968.  Commercial electrical service did not arrive at Whitefish Point until 1939.

The Shipwreck Museum is currently seeking private contributions to complete light tower restoration, to match funding from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program.  Phase I of this two-phase project was completed in December, 2009.  Phase I finished all restoration work from the top of the lantern room roof down to the bottom of the watch deck. Phase II, that includes all exterior work from the foundation to the middle horizontal plane just above the walkway roof commenced on August 29, 2011.

Individual steps of the spiral staircase inside the light tower cylinder may be purchased for $250 each for donors to name an honoree, themselves, or someone as a memorial.  Please see contact information if you are interested.

To make an online contribution to the Light Tower Restoration Project right now, simply click  Online Donations.


Restoring the Whitefish Point Light Tower

The Whitefish Point Light Tower, 2010

The Whitefish Point Light Tower, 2010

The famous Whitefish Point Light Tower is exactly 150 years old in 2011. It is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior, providing its life-saving beacon across the waters continuously since 1861. Today, this lighthouse remains a fully commissioned U.S. Coast Guard Aid to Navigation. Shipping companies firmly state that while modern electronic navigational methods as GPS and radar are of great help, it is still very important to be able to see this lighthouse as they approach the relative safety of Whitefish Bay.

While the U.S. Coast Guard operates the light, it no longer owns the historic tower. The tower, and its upkeep, are the responsibility of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

The Shipwreck Society is addressing Light Tower Restoration in three phases. Phase I, that included the Lantern Room, Watch Room, and all interior and exterior areas above the watch room deck, was completed in 2010.

The Society is now raising funds for Phase II. Phase II includes restoration work from the foundation up to the middle horizontal structural plane just above the walkway roof. Phase III, scheduled for 2012-2013, will complete the remaining upper skeletal structure.

A generous grant of $40,000 from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program partially supported Phase I, and a second $40,000 grant is partially supporting Phase II. The Shipwreck Society is selling Light Tower Stair Designations at $250 each for those who wish their names associated with the preservation of this historic lighthouse. Please click here to visit an area of our web site that provides more detailed information.

Please click here to visit our Donations Page to make a contribution to Save the Whitefish Point Light Tower.  All contributions are welcome and are tax deductible.  It is not necessary to login nor be a member of the Shipwreck Society to make a donation.

Light Tower Stair designations are also available at $250 each for patrons to remember or honor someone.  To find out more about this opportunity, please call the Development Office, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, at 800-635-1742.

Need: Roof Restoration of Navy Radio Building

Deteriorating Chimney of Navy Radio Station Barracks Buildling

One example of a current restoration need is the deteriorating chimney and roof of the 1929 U.S. Navy Radio Station Barracks Building.  This building was purchased by the U.S. Lighthouse Service from the Navy, acquired by the U.S. Coast Guard, and moved from the Radio Station property – 1000 yards south of the light station – to its present location in 1937.  The Coast Guard converted it to an Assistant Chief’s Quarters.  It is now used as the Shipwreck Museum Video Theatre building and for display of the MDOT Underwater Documentation Project exhibit.

Administrative: US Weather Bureau Building 400 W. Portage Avenue, Sault Ste Marie, MI 49783 906-635-1742 Toll Free Phone: 800-635-1742
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum - Whitefish Point 18335 N. Whitefish Point Road, Paradise, MI 49768 888-492-3747 Contact Us