Keweenaw Upper Entrance Seeing The Light

Houghton, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

With the meteoric growth of copper mining in the Keweenaw between 1843 and 1968, increased shipping access to the twin cities of Houghton and Hancock became increasingly important. To this end, the Portage River Canal was cut through a tamarack swamp at its western end in 1860, creating a channel 10 feet deep and 80 feet wide, opening full Portage River navigation for the largest vessels of the day from western Lake Superior.

In 1874, to assist in safely guiding ships into this cut, a large gabled two-story brick dwelling with attached square 33 foot high brick tower was constructed on the west bank at the entrance to the canal. With increasing use of the canal, silting became a major problem, and tolls were levied for its use in order to cover the continuing expenses for repairs and dredging.

For reasons as yet undetermined, the original lighthouse was replaced with the existing fifty foot square steel Art Deco style tower at the end of the breakwater in 1950.

Keepers of this Light

Click here to see a complete listing of all Keweenaw Waterway Upper Entrance Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

It was a drab and raining morning when we set-out from Houghton to follow the road West along the waterway.

As we pulled away from town, we could see a number of old mining industry structure on either shore of the waterway. At one point, a seaplane took off and quickly disappeared into the low hanging clouds.

As we reached the end of the road, we could see the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater on the opposite shore. The structure is located approximately twenty feet from the end of the riprap breakwater, and thus would be impossible to reach. It is evident that a seaworthy boat is going to have to be added to our compliment of lighthouse hunting equipment if we are to capture many of these fascinating structures from a close-up vantage point.

The Upper Entrance light is of a strangely "Art Deco" design, indicative of the period in which it was constructed, and while it lacks the charm of many of the older lights, the stark white tower and bright red base have their own undeniable charm.

Finding this Light

Take M203 West out of Hancock approximately ten miles to the J.F McLain State Park. The lighthouse is at the end of the pier located to the left of the park.
take Houghton Canal Rd. East out of Houghton, and travel approximately 10 miles to the end of the road. The lighthouse can be seen across the waterway.

Reference Sources

Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994.
10 Lights - The Lighthouses of Keweenaw Peninsula. Keweenaw Historical Society.
Personal visit to Keweenaw Upper Entrance on 09/08/1999
Photographs from author's personal collection.
Michigan Lighthouses, Penrose, 1992
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

Click to view Houghton weather conditions

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This page last modified 01/25/2002