Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Point Iroquois Light, MI

For large vessels to be able to sail directly from Lake Superior to the lower lakes, it was evident that the increase in maritime commerce would be both dramatic and immediate. While the lighthouse at Whitefish Point served well to guide vessels around the Point after which it was named, the location of the entrance to the St. Mary's River remained unmarked, and it was evident that a light was needed to help funnel vessels into the river mouth at the southeast end of Whitefish Bay. Iroquois Point had received its name in 1662 after the local Ojibwa encountered a band of intruding Iroquois encamped on the Point. The following morning both groups were in a full-pitched battle, and by the end of the day, the entire band of Iroquois had been wiped-out and the Point named for eternity.

Plans and construction began for the Point Iroquois Lighthouse in 1855, consisting of a 45 foot tall rubble stone tower with a wooden lantern deck, the tower was outfitted with a flashing white Fourth Order Fresnel lens. As a result of its location on the highest ground on the Point, the Light had a 63-foot focal plane, and a range of visibility of 10 nautical miles in clear weather. In the fall of 1870, a prefabricated cast iron spiral stairway with 72 steps wound within the tower, supported by a hollow central iron column. Capped with a decagonal cast iron lantern housing the Fourth Order Fresnel from the original tower, exhibiting the station's characteristic white flash every 30 seconds. The tower's location atop high ground on the Point provided the lens with a focal plane of 72 feet, and a resulting 15 mile visible range during clear weather.

With improvements in RADAR, radio navigation and LORAN-C in the late 1950's many of the nation's lights quickly became obsolete. After Point Iroquois Lighted Buoy 44 was installed offshore in 1962, the Point Iroquois Light was discontinued. In an event to reduce operating costs, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the station to the U. S. Park Service in 1965, with the property incorporated into the Hiawatha National Forest. No longer serving any purpose, the station's Fourth Order Fresnel was removed from the lantern later that year after more than a century of faithful service to lake Superior mariners. The lens was carefully disassembled and crated-up, and shipped to Washington DC, where it was placed on display at the Smithsonian Institution. The station buildings were thereafter leased to the Bay Mills-Brimley Historical Research Society, which completed a total restoration of the building in 1983.

Much of the station has been converted into an excellent maritime museum, and is open to visitors from Memorial Day through October 15, and is well worth visiting.

The museum and tower are open to the public every day from Memorial Day through October 15. Hours are 10.00am to 5.00pm, seven days a week. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they reopen from 7.00pm to 9.00pm.

Contact information:

Point Iroquois Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
Sault Ste. Marie Ranger Office
4000 I-75 Business Spur Sault Ste.
Marie, MI 49783
906-635-5311 or 906-437-5272

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