Panorama of Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum Campus — Photo by Chris Winters
Whitefish Point is located at the extreme southeastern end of Lake Superior. It is a critical turning point for all vessel traffic entering and leaving this largest of all the Great Lakes. The Whitefish Point Light Station was established by Congress in 1849; since then, a life-saving beacon has illuminated these dangerous waters for mariners continuously. Today, the Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The present light tower was constructed in 1861 during Abraham Lincoln’s administration.
Whitefish Point marks the eastern end of a notorious 80-mile stretch of shoreline from here west to Munising, Michigan, known ominously as Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast. Of the 550 known major shipwrecks lying on the bottom of the lake, at least 200 of them are in the vicinity of Whitefish Point. The primary causes of shipwreck here are stress of weather and collision; the 1975 loss of the steamer Edmund Fitzgerald with her entire crew of 29 has become a world-wide legend. The wreck of the Fitzgerald lies just 15 miles northwest of Whitefish Point.
The Light Station was operated exclusively by the U.S. Lighthouse Service from 1849 until 1923, when the U.S. Coast Guard established a Lifeboat Rescue Station here. The Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard in 1939; the Coast Guard closed the Lifeboat Station in 1951, and took all personnel from the site in 1970.
The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, but there was no money for restoration. In 1980, Whitefish Township approached the fledging Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society for assistance in preserving this important property. The Society obtained a License from the Coast Guard in 1983 to commence museum operations; opened the first exhibits in 1985; and opened the present Shipwreck Museum Building in 1987.
An Act of Congress legislatively transferred the site to the Shipwreck Society’s full ownership in October of 1996.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society is a 501 c (3) non-profit organization. To make an online contribution to one of our many exciting projects right now, simply click Online Donations.