Munising Range Lights Seeing The Light

Munising, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

Click to view enlarged imageGrand Island stands guard at the entrance to Munising Bay, where the south shore long served as a natural harbor of refuge to vessels seeking shelter from the fury of Superior's late season storms. So critical was the area considered by mariners that Superior's first lighthouse the Grand Island North Light was atop the 175-foot tall cliffs at the northern tip of Grand Island in 1856. Serving to both warn coasting captains of the northern point of the island and the safe harbor located to the south, vessels making for the harbor were required to negotiate the narrow passages to the east and west of the island without benefit of any navigational aids.

Click to view enlarged imageIn order to guide vessels into the safety of the harbor, the Lighthouse Board constructed a pair of lights at the foot of each passage in 1868. The Grand Island Harbor Range Lights on the mainland on the west edge of Munising Bay, and the Grand Island East Channel Light, a wood frame schoolhouse-style structure on a peninsula at the southeast end of the island.

Click to view enlarged imageBy 1905, the deteriorating condition of the old East Channel Light and the increasing size of vessels entering the harbor made it clear that the old station was no longer effectively serving the needs of the maritime community, since its location at the southernmost point of the island, rendered the light completely invisible to vessels entering through the eastern passage until they were almost abreast of the light itself.

Click to view enlarged imageDetermining that a set of range lights located at the foot of the east channel within in the town of Munising would serve as the best guide to captains making their way through the east passage, the Board requested an appropriation of $13,200 for the construction of such a station in its annual report for 1905. Congress ignored the request, and convinced of the necessity for the expenditure the Board reiterated the request in its report for the following year, stating "If this appropriation is now made it will save the large outlay necessary to renew the buildings of the present Harbor Light."

Click to view enlarged imageWhile Congress responded with an appropriation on March 4, 1907, they felt that the amount requested was excessive, and only appropriated the sum of $15,000 for the construction of the new station. The plans for the station called out two steel towers, the front range to be situated on low land close to the shore, and the rear range on the hills that encircle Munising Bay. The contract for the metal work for the towers was awarded to the Champion Iron Company in Kenton, Ohio with the stipulation that the materials would need to be delivered at the Munising site by August 3, 1908.

Click to view enlarged imageBy the end of June, the excavation for the towers and dwelling foundations were complete, and work began on the 35 foot by 20 foot frame and brick dwelling itself, which was the first such dwelling built to a plan that subsequently be replicated down the coast at Grand Marais and at Point Aux Barques on the west coast of Lake Huron.

Click to view enlarged imageWith the arrival of the ironwork from Ohio, the construction crew's attention turned to the erection of the two towers themselves. While the front range tower stood at 58 feet in height, and rear range a diminutive 33 feet, their respective locations on the shore provided the lights with focal planes of 79 feet and 107 feet respectively. The lanterns on both towers were outfitted with Adams and Westlake 23-inch red reflector lights. Powered by incandescent electric bulbs with power supplied by the Munising utility, these reflectors output 35,000 candlepower, and were visible down range for a distance of 19 miles.

Work continued on the station into the fall, and the lights were exhibited for the first time on the night of October 30th. Claiming that the deep water area to the south of Grand Island had become "available during northerly storms as a refuge for the largest class of vessel plying on the Great Lakes," the old East Channel Light station was emptied of all valuable equipment and supplies and abandoned to the wind and waves.

Keepers of this Light

Click here to see a complete listing of all Munising Range Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

Munising Front range light is located right in town, and completely surrounded by homes and outbuildings, along with an incredible conglomeration of power lines around the tower. The Rear Range is located a block to the south on the bluffs that encircle the town.

In comparing the keeper's dwelling with an old postcard in our collection, we were surprised at how little the dwelling has changed over the years.

Finding this Light

Take M28 into Munising from the East or West. The lighthouse is located approximately two blocks from downtown on the West side of town.

Reference Sources

Annual reports of the Lighthouse Board, 1860 - 1909
Great Lakes Light Lists, 1925 & 1939
Annual report of the Lake Carrier's Association, 1909
Great Lakes Coast Pilot, 1953, US Army Corps of Engineers.
Northern Lights, Charles K. Hyde, 1986
Personal observations at Munising, 09/11/98, 07/12/02 & 08/10/03.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

This page last updated 08/20/2003

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