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Meet Fort Gratiot Lighthouse


Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
Digital artwork print by Charles Stockwell

In 1825, the original Fort Gratiot Light was built approximately where the Blue Water Bridge now stands at a cost of $5,762. That makes it Michigan's oldest lighthouse. On Lake Huron where it meets the St. Clair River. The light’s first official keeper was George McDougall, a short man weighing over 300 pounds, who complained that the stairs were so steep he had to climb up sideways and the trapdoor into the lantern room was barely large enough for him to squeeze through. He suffered from gout and other infirmities, so he decided to hire an assistant to climb the stairs and work in the tower.


In 1828, Keeper McDougall reported that the lighthouse had cracks in its walls and was leaning to the east. In the summer of that year, a great storm blew for three days and nights, eroding vast amounts of the shore and undermining the lighthouse. A few months later, it toppled over. Congress immediately appropriated $8,000 for a new lighthouse and awarded the construction contract to Lucius Lyon, who later became one of Michigan’s first U.S. Senators.


The new lighthouse was built half a mile north of the original site, making it easier for ships to spot as they entered the rapids at the head of the St. Clair River. It was constructed of brick at a cost of $5,000. The tower stood 69 feet tall. In 1862, the height of the tower was increased to 82 feet. Frank Kimball was the longest-serving keeper of the Fort Gratiot Light. He entered the Lighthouse Service in 1882, served as head keeper of the Port Austin Reef Lighthouse from 1883 to 1894, and then as head keeper at Fort Gratiot for thirty-five years until he retired in 1929 at the age of seventy.


In 2004, the Fort Gratiot Light was declared excess by the Coast Guard and offered at no cost to the City of Port Huron, but after hearing it would cost roughly $4 million to restore the lighthouse, the City Council rejected the offer. In 2010, the Commissioners of St. Clair County agreed to accept ownership, and the deed to the property was transferred to them. In 2012, the Fort Gratiot Light, which had been closed to the public since 2008,

was reopened. You can visit the lighthouse and if you'd like, you can even climb to the top during a guided tour! For more information about the lighthouse, visit their website: https://www.phmuseum.org/fort-gratiot-lighthouse/

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