It won’t come to you as a surprise.
If you’ve been a reader of Mama’s Empty Nest for very long, you are probably quite aware that autumn is my very favorite season of all.
Oh, I like winter enough when it snows and is frosty outside. Spring rates as my second favorite season because finally color bursts forth across the landscape. Summer? Blech. I only tolerate those months of the year when it’s not hot and humid and that doesn’t happen very often in my neck of the woods.
Since Papa and I entered the empty nest stage of life well over a decade ago when our last offspring headed off to college life, we’ve enjoyed taking vacations in the fall. And now that we’re retired, traveling during that season suits us even more. The weather is usually very pleasant and sightseeing spots are far less crowded.
Our trip to Michigan last year was no different except that we encountered much colder weather than we expected. But even though we had to find a retailer to purchase winter hats and gloves to stay warm, we relished in our sightseeing – especially all of the lighthouses we visited in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
We spent a day enjoying snow flurries while touring that area with our trusty lighthouse map/guide specifically to find a couple of lighthouses. Our day trip ended in Sault Ste. Marie shivering in rapidly falling temperatures at sunset to watch a ship proceed through the locks there, which is one of the most heavily used commercial shipping canals in the world.
Prior to that though, we traveled along the shoreline of the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, to Point Iroquois Light 20 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie.
The area known as Point Iroquois was named by the Ojibwa for the Iroquois war party who invaded the area in an attempt to dominate the fur trade but were defeated in a massacre in 1662. The name used by the Ojibwa in their native language meant “place of Iroquois bones.”
After French explorers arrived in the area, the point became a notable landmark, especially once Sault Ste. Marie was established as a settlement. By the mid 1800’s, copper and iron ore were discovered in the area resulting in the need for a passage for ore-carrying vessels to safely travel and the “Soo Locks” was built.
Because of the increased volume of water traffic leaving and approaching the locks and the very hazardous weather conditions in the area, the addition of lighthouses along Lake Superior became apparent.
Construction of Point Iroquois Light Station, which would serve to guide ships through a narrow channel between shallow sand bars and shoals off the point and rocky reefs on the Canadian side of Whitefish Bay, commenced in 1854 and was completed the next year. The light was emitted for the first time in September 1857.
The original lighthouse consisted of a cylindrical 45-foot wooden tower with a detached one-and-a-half story stone dwelling for the keeper’s quarters. Years later, both structures were in poor condition, so construction began on a new 65-foot brick tower and eight-room keeper’s home in 1870, which still stand today.
When a fog signal was added to the station, another keeper was required, so an addition to the keeper’s home was added in 1905 to provide more living space.
After 107 years of service, Point Iroquois Lighthouse became deactivated in 1963 when it was replaced by the automated Gros Cap Point Light in Canada. The lantern room’s Fresnel lens was removed, shipped to Washington, DC’s Smithsonian Institute, and the lighthouse property deemed excess. In 1965, the U.S. Forest Service assumed responsibility for the property.
Ten years later, the light station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and during the 1980’s, Bay Mills-Brimley Historical Research Society joined the forest service in restoring the lighthouse and creating a museum and gift shop in the keeper’s dwelling.
Despite the navigational light and fog horn aid Point Iroquois provided in its many years of service, occasionally ships still wrecked in the passage. Such an event occurred in 1919 during a November lake storm.
The steamer Myron sunk in the freezing lake and 16 of the crew lost their lives. The light keeper at the time found their bodies washed ashore and had to transport them to a nearby town undertaker. Reportedly, the undertaker paid $10 apiece for “floaters.”
Treacherous winter weather also took its toll when the keeper and assistant took a team of horses out on the ice to either fish or gather ice blocks to store in the ice house.
On more than one occasion, horses broke through the ice because of soft spots where warm springs bubbled up. During one such episode, the horses became so frightened that they thrashed around and unfortunately sank into the icy lake to their deaths.
Those are just some of the stories about the light keepers and their families visitors learn about when viewing exhibits at this light station’s museum.
The lantern room is open to the public and you can climb the 72 steps of the circular iron stairway to reach it. Papa and I accomplished that and were rewarded with an amazing view of Lake Superior, particularly beautiful in autumn.
We peeked into the assistant light keeper’s apartment which has been restored to reflect how it looked during the 1950’s. We thoroughly delighted in a short walk along a wooded boardwalk path to a cobblestone beach where we gained different perspectives of the lighthouse amid the fall foliage.
Currently during this pandemic, the Point Iroquois Lighthouse is closed. However, visitors can still stroll the boardwalk and grounds there.
I sincerely hope my readers are finding the stories of all of these lighthouses I highlight on my Tuesday Tour posts as fascinating as I am. Each lighthouse has a different story to tell just as each has a purpose for existing.
And isn’t that just like us as human beings? We each have a story, we each have a purpose, and sometimes, our purpose is to tell our stories to help someone else.
Just like a guiding lighthouse.
“ …what he told himself on those sea-soaked nights…Others joined in and it was discovered that every light had a story-no, every light was a story. And the flashes themselves were the stories going out over the waves, as markers and guides and comfort and warning.” ~ Jeanette Winterson in Lighthousekeeping