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Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Photo credit to Gary Wojcik

Whether you’re visiting the area, or just stopping along the way, it’s well worth it to devote a day to “seeing the light” in Alcona County.  

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, a 139 year-old working navigational structure, is part of the Sturgeon Point Historical Site and Maritime Museum owned and operated by the Alcona County Historical Society.

Sturgeon Point received its name because of the seven to 10 foot long sturgeon fish that once spawned along the point’s reefs. These reefs, halfway between Saginaw Bay’s Point AuSable and Thunder Bay Lighthouse, are among the farthest reaching shoals on Lake Huron. Between the years 1828 and 1934 alone, there were 27 shipwrecks in the vicinity of Sturgeon Point. Even today, the reefs continue to present a navigational hazard.

The need for a lighthouse and life saving station, established in 1876, arose from that reef, which extends one and a half miles into Lake Huron at Sturgeon Point, just north of Harrisville. The United States Lighthouse Service began construction of the tower and attached light keeper’s home in 1869 at a cost of $15,000. The lighthouse tower stands 70 feet in height and is 16 feet in diameter at the base.  

It houses the original 3.5 Order Fresnel lens, made in Paris, France. Originally lighted by kerosene, the lantern consists of a fixed white light set in a series of eight prisms in a central drum of lenses. The kerosene wicks made the light visible from 16 miles out into Lake Huron. The light flashed on and off at spaced intervals by a timing device wound by the keeper. Today’s fully automated light is powered by solar charged batteries. 

The lighthouse keeper’s home is connected to the tower through an 11-foot passageway, which allowed the keeper to tend the light without going outside in inclement weather. The residence includes eight rooms in the two-story dwelling. 

In 1915, with the formation of the U.S. Coast Guard, Sturgeon Point became a Coast Guard station. The lighthouse was wired for electricity in 1939 and its last personnel left in 1941. Other Coast Guard buildings at the site were subsequently destroyed. The lighthouse itself survived, but was severely vandalized.

In 1982, the Alcona County Historical Society began a three-year restoration project, which included painting and restoration of the light keeper’s house interior and painting and repair to the remaining outlying buildings. Virtually all of the work was done by volunteers. The home, of masonry construction with a limestone foundation, is furnished with furniture and items from the time of its operation. Its second story houses a large collection of historical documents, artifacts and photos. 

In 2005, the historical society obtained ownership of the lighthouse and grounds through an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, subject to removal of soil contaminated with lead paint chips from the original tower paint by the state. That work is expected to occur this summer.

Even in 1877 tours of the lighthouse tower were a popular Sunday afternoon activity. So much so, the lighthouse keeper posted a notice stating that no more Sunday afternoon tours would be allowed in the tower. Fortunately, this is not true today. The tower is open for tours on the weekend during the summer.

If visitors hold their ear to the lighthouse’s tower, they may very well hear the echoes of local legend. The legend holds that a Native American fell inside the tower catching his foot on the cast iron circular stair case. Hanging himself upside down, he died and his soul entered the staircase’s suspension pole. Sometimes visitors can still hear his cries for help. Whether the legend is true remains open to question, but it makes for a scary tale told at the foot of the lighthouse on a foggy night.

The lighthouse and its surrounding grounds are a great place to visit. The lighthouse is a sight to behold and rightfully catches the eye of many artists and photographers. In addition to picnic tables and benches, the grounds host several large nautical artifacts with informational placards.

Depending on seasonal water levels, visitors can walk onto Sturgeon Point for several hundred feet. Miles and miles of beach invite adventurers to explore the natural habitat of the Lake Huron shoreline. In addition to several varieties of sea grasses, primrose, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, wild strawberry and yarrow abound. For animal enthusiasts, several types of gulls, cormorant, killdeer, loons and an occasional bald eagle can generally be spotted.

With over a century old tradition of helping water and land lovers find their way to Alcona County, Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is a visit long remembered. 

Also on site is the Bailey School, a one-room schoolhouse originally operated in Mikado, a small community approximately 10 miles southwest of the lighthouse. The Norway pine structure was built in 1907 and is furnished with items of its era including a recitation bench, drinking pail and dipper, wood stove, maps and books.  Its original school bell sits on the building’s roof. This is one of the few remaining one-room schoolhouses still standing in Michigan, and it is a reminder of simpler times.

The school is still furnished with items used during that time; a recitation bench, teacher and student desks, drinking pail and dipper and a wood stove that provided heat during the long northern Michigan winters.
The school remained open through the 1940-41 school year. When the school was closed the students were transported to Oscoda schools. In 1973, Mikado Township began a partial restoration of the building and in 1998 it was disassembled and moved to the Sturgeon Point location. The historical society’s annual Strawberry Social is held at the school on the last Sunday in June.

Photo credit to Gary Wojcik

The Sturgeon Point grounds also feature remains of Lake Huron shipwrecks and the historical society operates a gift shop featuring marine memorabilia.  Backed by a stretch of sandy beach and Lake Huron’s grandeur, it represents one of the most popular day trip sites in the area.  The light itself is an oft-sought landmark to boaters on the big lake.  

The Sturgeon Point Maritime Museum grounds are open to the public year-round.  The lighthouse keeper’s home and Bailey School are open Memorial Day through September from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The lighthouse tower is open from noon to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The lighthouse gift shop is open seasonally and can be reached by calling (989) 724-6297.

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