A Brief History of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse

A Brief History of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse

Michigan may be best known for being the unofficial home of the US auto industry, but it hold another major distinction in that it is home to the largest number of lighthouses in the country. The official number really depends on who you ask, but at the height of their popularity, it is believed that as many as 250 active lighthouses were in operation across the state. It’s fair to say that the Upper Peninsula is home to a good percentage of those, many of which are nothing more than tourist attractions, as their lights have long since been permanently turned off.

One of the most scenic lighthouses in the Upper Peninsula is still very much active and in use by the Coast Guard, as well as being a wonderful place to visit. The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse is certainly hard to miss, as it’s a beautiful bright red structure that overlooks the rugged Marquette shoreline along Lake Superior. The beauty that it so openly displays today masks the tough life that it has had since construction began back in the 1850’s.

With shipping traffic in the area starting to reach great heights in 1850, Congress decided it was time to protect those routes by constructing a new lighthouse. The light was switched on for the first time in June 1853, but the severe weather in the area took a toll on the tower, which had to be completely replaced just 12 years later. By 1875, the Army Corps of Engineers had been called in to construct a breakwater to offer some protection to the Marquette Lighthouse but Mother Nature still had her way, destroying the original light in 1889.

If the look of the building that houses the light looks a little familiar, it may be because it was modeled after other lighthouses on Granite Island, Gull Rock, and Huron Island. Despite that wonderful design, and the excellent living quarters made available to the lighthouse keeper, actually getting anyone to maintain the building was difficult. The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse developed something of a reputation for being hard to look after in the early years, with no less than 10 different lighthouse keepers coming and going within its first 29 years of service.

All of that became somewhat moot when the U.S. Coast Guard took over operations in 1915, just 16 years after the lighthouse had switched to electric power. The Coast Guard and U.S. Lighthouse merged in 1935, and the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse has been an active base for the Coast Guard ever since.

The Marquette Lighthouse is one of the most recognizable in the country, and as such had plenty of visitors ready to walk the stunning catwalk out front in order to get the perfect photo opportunity. In order to do that, though, you need to plan ahead, as tours of the lighthouse, the grounds, and the museum are guided only. Furthermore, the tours are only open from mid-May to mid-October, and only at specific times of the day. If you want to get a closer look at this majestic lighthouse, we recommend visiting the official website for more information on tour dates and times.