Menominee North Pier Light Seeing The Light

Menominee, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

The river which empties into Green Bay at this location, and the settlement which was to grow at the river's mouth took their name from the indigenous Native tribe from whom the Federal Government obtained this area by treaty in 1836. Land lookers moved through the area immediately, with the Farnsworth and Bush sawmill opening-up operations later in that same year. Soon, a number of lumbering operations were working the interior, and Menominee was becoming a major shipping point for the bounty of the areas forests.

In 1846, while performing land surveys through the area, William A, Burt noted signs of iron ore upstream along the Menominee in the Crystal River and Lake Antoine areas. With subsequent verification, excavation of what would become known as the Menominee Range was underway.

Menominee continued to grow as a lumber port, and with the establishment of a post office in 1863 and the arrival of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1871, the town was really on the map.

Development of the Menominee Range was slow to start, as a result of the national economic crisis gripping the nation in the early seventies. With the economic conditions improving in the latter half of the decade, the Chicago and Northwestern built a rail line connecting Quinnesec to the flourishing deepwater ore shipping port in Escanaba in 1877, and development of the Range kicked into high gear.

While the Range was considerably closer to the Menominee harbor, the presence of ore docks in Escanaba since 1863, and the pre-existing infrastructure to handle the ore weighed heavily in the decision to bypass Menominee as the ore shipping point for the ore being excavated at the Range.

However, all was not a complete loss for Menominee, as it's docks became the primary port for receiving equipment, supplies and miners moving into the area to work the Range. In combination with outbound lumber shipments, Menominee harbor became increasingly busy in the late seventies, the first lighthouse was constructed in 1877. Unfortunately, as of this point, we have been unable to determine the design and location of this first light.

By 1879, there were eight mines active on the Range, with over two hundred thousand tons of ore shipped. Three years later, that number passed the one million-ton mark. Activity at the Range increased through the years, topping-out in 1920 with the shipment of almost seven million tons of Menominee ore.

The town of Menominee continued to reap the benefits of the Range, and as a result significant harbor improvements were undertaken in the 1920's, At their completion in 1927, a prefabricated octagonal cast iron tower was delivered by vessel, and lowered onto the pier.

Click to view enlarged imageThe thirty-four foot tower was painted white, and integrated with an attached fog signal building. An elevated wooden catwalk stretched along the wooden pier to provide the keepers with safe access to the light during periods when waves crashed across the surface of the pier. The octagonal cast iron lantern room was outfitted with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens of unknown manufacture.

At some point thereafter, the wooden pier was replaced by a concrete structure with a forty-foot diameter circular crib at its offshore end. At this time, the fog signal was eliminated with the inclusion of an automated electrically operated signal in the tower. With automation of the light in 1972, the need for daily maintenance of the light was also eliminated, and the iron catwalk was removed from the pier.

Click to view enlarged imageThe tower was painted bright red, and relocated to a white painted concrete platform in the center of the crib. It's elevated position on the pier provided a focal plane of forty-six feet.

While the catwalk no longer snakes its way along the pier, the iron tower still stands guard over the harbor entrance, its' jewel-like Fresnel lens replaced by a stark modern 300mm plastic lens.

Mining on the Menominee range began a rapid decline in the 1930's, and crumbling ruins are all that remain of the once busy operations which helped fuel the Midwest's incredible industrial growth in the early part of the twentieth century.

Keepers of this Light

Click Here to see a complete listing of all Menominee Pierhead Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

The port of Menominee was still bustling when we arrived, and a number of self-unloaders could be seen in along the river as we crossed over the bridge across the river.

Making our way through town and down to the lakeshore, it was plain that unlike many other northern lakeshore towns, Menominee has not undertaken an aggressive waterfront revitalization program. The waterfront area consists mostly of run-down commercial structures, and many features of the harbor are in some state of disrepair.

The pier itself is in good condition, and we enjoyed a pleasant walk to the lighthouse at the pier end.

Finding this Light

As you enter Menominee, US-41 takes a jog onto 10th Street and heads in an east/west direction as it passes through town. Continue east on 10th Street towards the lake to 1st street. Turn south onto 1st Street, and turn east onto Harbor Drive. Follow Harbor Drive along the lakeshore until you reach the parking lot at the end of the road. From the parking lot, it is a short walk along a wooden walkway and across large, flat breakwater rocks to the pier. Once on the pier, it is a smooth and easy walk out to the Light. 

Reference Sources

Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994.
Northern Lights, Charles K. Hyde, 1995.
The Iron Riches of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Donna L. Stiffler, website
The Michigan Handbook, Tina Lassen, 1999
Personal observation at Manistee, 09/14/2000.
Photographs from author's personal collection.
Historical photographs from USCG Historians office, Photographic archives.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

  Click to view Menominee weather conditions

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This page last modified 12/12/2003