Waugoshance Lighthouse
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From SOS to SOL – Why Saving Our Lighthouses Matters

2015 saw a huge push for the restoration and preservation of Michigan’s lighthouses. Once home to as many as 247 lighthouses, Michigan now hosts roughly 130 of these iconic buildings. Early that year, five of these beacons of Michigan history were given away to “qualifying institutions” that Michigan saw fit to revitalize these sad and neglected structures. In July of that same year, three more went up for sale in an auction open to non-profit organizations that would be willing to maintain the historic structures and, ultimately, keep the lights on. Bids as low as $5,000 were coming in for these much weathered buildings.

Lighthouses once played a vital role in Michigan’s culture and economy but now stand stoically in the sidelines as evidence of our state’s transformation over many, many years. These structures were once a defining factor of Michigan as they protected ships from the shallow waters that surround our little mitten and lit the way for countless sailors to safely pass through our chain of freshwater lakes. With the creation of new navigational technology, lighthouses have become all but useless in recent years. They now serve as beautiful year-round tourist destinations and symbols of Michigan’s coastal history and life in the Great Lakes State.

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, photo courtesy of Mandi Grasmeyer

To preserve lighthouses is to preserve a significant part of Michigan’s identity. Once a state reliant upon lighthouses, Michigan is now desperately trying to place them in the care of anyone willing to keep their lights on. Purchasing, restoring and maintaining a lighthouse is an amazing endeavor but only for special individuals with the means and the passion. However, if you have a love for lighthouses but not the ability to purchase one, here are three other ways you can help protect these beacons of Michigan history shining through the night.

1. Donate to Lighthouse Preservation and/or Historical Societies

The Michigan Lighthouse Guide has a list of roughly 35 different lighthouse preservation and historical societies that you can join and donate to. It is a great way to find and support a local lighthouse or, for those outside of Michigan, this site offers a great opportunity to learn more about Michigan’s culture and even aid our lighthouse restoration initiative.

The Awesome Mitten - Waugoshance Lighthouse
Waugoshance Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Mandi Grasmeyer.

One lighthouse in desperate need of donations and restoration is Waugoshance Lighthouse. Located in the Straits of Mackinaw, this building is considered one of the most endangered lighthouses in the world. It has survived an incredible degree of wear and tear from the elements and Michigan’s seasons as it has sat in the middle of Lake Michigan since 1851. It has also endured U.S. Navy bombing practice that occurred during World War II. While the lighthouse is still standing, it may not for much longer. The lighthouse keeper’s house and all of the wood framing in the house were lost to fire, the metal shell has fallen away into the lake and, quite frankly, it’s impressive that any remnants of the lighthouse remain at all. For such an historic building in this sad state of deterioration, it’s important that action be taken immediately.

2. Become a member of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA)

While becoming a member of the GLLKA doesn’t give you all the access that official lighthouse keepers get, such as climbing tours and lighting ceremonies, it does make you an honorary lighthouse keeper which means you get to be the first to hear the news and restoration projects for lighthouses all over the mitten. Plus, you get that inner glow knowing that, because of you, lighthouses all over Michigan are that much safer and beautiful. You are keeping Michigan’s history alive and shining.

The Awesome Mitten - St. Helena Lighthouse
St. Helena Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Mandi Grasmeyer.


The Awesome Mitten - Cheboygan Front Range
Cheboygan Front Range. Photo courtesy of Mandi Grasmeyer.

The cost of a basic GLLKA membership is a one-time fee of $40 per individual, which gives you the inside scoop on the history and current preservation efforts for lighthouses throughout Michigan. Contributing memberships begin at $125 per year and include the same information access as the basic membership. However, the proceeds from contributing memberships are donated toward the GLLKA and their restoration projects. The GLLKA is currently working on restoring and maintaining St. Helena Lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinaw and the Cheboygan Front Range Lights in Cheboygan.

3. Purchase a “Save Our Lights” license plate

The Awesome Mitten - Save Our Lights
A “Save Our Lights” license plate. Photo courtesy of Mandi Grasmeyer.

“By rehabilitating Michigan’s historic lighthouses, nonprofit organizations and local communities safeguard the most visible icons of our strong maritime history and promote greater public awareness for our unique cultural heritage in the Great Lakes.” – The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program (MLAP)

Through the sale of their “Save Our Lights” license plates, the MLAP has handed out several substantial grants to various Michigan lighthouses in need since it was founded in 1999. In 2015 alone, the program awarded $118,432 to be split between the Charlevoix South Pier Lighthouse, the South Haven Light Keeper’s Dwelling, Crisp Point Lighthouse, Mission Point Lighthouse, and Sand Point Lighthouse for different projects such as repainting, rehabilitating roofs, electrical maintenance, and more mandatory repairs.

For $35, you can purchase a “Save Our Lights” fundraising plate for your car by completing and mailing this application to the Michigan Department of State. $25 of the initial purchase will go toward the MLAP, and then each time you renew your plate the cost will include an additional $10 donation. These distinctive license plates, which feature the White Shoal Lighthouse, can be used on any non-commercial passenger car, pickup truck, van, or motor-home.

The Awesome Mitten - South Haven
South Haven Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Mandi Grasmeyer.

“Preservation of Michigan’s historic lighthouses also promotes the economic development and vitality of the local economies of the communities in which these historic properties reside. By enhancing the tourism potential of local communities, rehabilitation of Michigan’s historic lighthouses necessarily promotes the greater economic expansion of the entire state. Investing in our lighthouses, therefore, is investing in Michigan’s rich cultural heritage and economic growth.” – The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program (MLAP)

While not all Michiganders are lighthouse enthusiasts—and not all lighthouse enthusiasts are Michiganders—it is up to all of us to restore and preserve these beacons of Michigan history. Thankfully, there are three simple ways you can support Michigan’s fight to rescue these precious buildings, and every one of them can be done from the comfort of your own home. Join the cause today and help save Michigan’s lighthouses!

The Awesome Mitten wants to know which lighthouse would you want to see saved? Tell us in the comments below!

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