The northeast tip of Michigan’s Thumb is named Pointe aux Barques (French for Point of the Little Ships). This spot is a serious navigation hazard — a reef covered by only two feet of water sticks out two miles into Lake Huron. In 1847, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse at Pointe aux Barques, and a 65-foot tower was constructed. In 1848, Peter Shook was appointed as the first lighthouse keeper, but less than a year later, his boat capsized on Lake Huron, and he drowned, leaving his wife Catherine and eight children. Catherine Shook was appointed keeper in her husband’s stead, becoming the first female lighthouse keeper in Michigan. Shortly thereafter, a fire broke out in the keeper’s dwelling.
Catherine lost most of her furniture and was badly burned trying to keep the fire from spreading. The strain of keeping the light and caring for her children eventually proved to be too much, and she resigned her position in 1851. In 1857, a new lighthouse was built, consisting of a 79-foot conical tower built of yellow brick and fitted with a rotating third-order Fresnel lens. Attached to the tower was a two-story keeper's dwelling built of matching brick. Peter Richards served longer than any other keeper at Pointe aux Barques. He was appointed assistant keeper in 1895 and retired as head keeper in 1939. Keeper Richards and his wife Irene raised three sons and a daughter at the station.
In 1958, the lighthouse was completely automated, and an on-site lighthouse keeper was no longer needed. In that same year, the property surrounding the lighthouse was sold to Huron County for use as a park. In 2003, the deed to the lighthouse itself was transferred to Huron County. In 2002, a group of volunteers formed the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse Society. They installed a new cedar roof and added historically accurate brick chimneys to the old keeper’s dwelling. In 2019, they restored the assistant keeper’s dwelling and launched an Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Program that allows up to four adults to stay there for a week for a nominal fee.
The lighthouse offers a lot of activities for the community and visitors. Make sure to check out the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse Society website for all the information about upcoming events. This lighthouse is also very close to the famous Turnip Rock landmark outside of Port Austin, MI. If you're heading to the area over Labor Day, come visit me at the Port Austin Art in the Park and if you're visiting the area any time, bring a kayak, canoe or paddleboard to check out the rich history of the area's lighthouses. If you'd like to take this lovely lighthouse home, you can order the digital print by Charles Stockwell here.