North Manitou Light Station

In the late 1800s, mariners utilized one of several passages between the Straits of Mackinac and Green Bay, depending on the weather and their ultimate destination.  Transit through the Northern Passage was guided by a lightship at White Shoals and the lights at Squaw Island and Seul Choix Pointe. The Central passage, between North Fox Island and Beaver Island, was defined by the Beaver Head Light and the light on South Fox Island. The southernmost route passed south of the extended shoals off South Fox and the unmarked North Manitou. To improve safety in the passage, the Lighthouse Board recommended an appropriation for a light there in 1892.  

Despite the Board’s recommendation of a location on the north shore of the island, the actual site chosen was Dimmick’s Point on the southernmost point of the island.  This location was considerably less effective for marking the cross-lake passage it was intended for but more useful for North/South transit between the island and mainland in the Manitou Passage.

2014. Photo courtesy of Becky Ross

After several years of delays, work was started in 1896 using plans from the keeper’s dwelling and fog signal constructed the prior year on Plum Island, off Wisconsin’s nearby Door Peninsula. While the fog signal was placed in operation in November, the light tower, a pyramidal open-frame timber structure with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens, wasn’t completed until 1899.

The location was problematic from the start as waves driven by offshore winds frequently washed across the Point.  The issue was so severe that by 1912, cribs had to be constructed to protect the foundation of the fog signal building. The light was automated in 1928, then decommissioned in 1935 upon completion of the North Manitou Shoal Light. It was sold to a private individual in 1938 but not maintained.  Waves and high water toppled the tower in 1942. Other buildings succumbed over time and by the 1970s, nothing remained standing.

Researched and written by Karen Wells

To learn more about the other Lighthouses of Leelanau please visit the museum. Check out the exhibits we have on display here.