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Meet White Shoal Lighthouse


White Shoal Lighthouse Lake Michigan
Digital Art by Charles Stockwell

White Shoal Lighthouse is located in the middle of the Straits of Mackinac about 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge on a shoal covered by just five feet of water. It is 121 feet tall, the tallest lighthouse in the Great Lakes.


Congress appropriated $250,000 for the lighthouse in 1907. A crew built a huge timber crib 72 feet square and 18 feet 6 inches high on the shore at St. Ignace, then towed it slowly out to the shoal, and filled it with 4,000 tons of stone until it sank two feet below the water's surface. Atop the crib, they built a reenforced-concrete pier with a deck 20 feet above lake level. Atop the pier, they built a conical-shaped tower 105 feet tall surmounted by a cylindrical service room, watch room, and first-order helical-bar lantern. The tower was made of structural steel, backed with brick and faced with terra cotta, with certain cast-iron parts and trimmings and with a gallery deck, a watch room, and a lantern made of aluminum. The work was completed in 1911 at a total cost of $224,563.


The first keeper at this lighthouse was Ingvald Olsen. He was transferred to Sheboygan, Wisconsin in late 1914, and James Marshall took charge of the station. The lighthouse was given its distinctive red-and-white candy cane paint job in 1954. It was automated and its crew removed in 1976.


White Shoal Lighthouse was declared excess by the Coast Guard in 2014 and made available at no cost to an eligible organization for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes. When no eligible organization took up the offer, the General Services Administration put the lighthouse up for auction. In 2016, the winning bid of $110,009 was placed by two licensed contractors, Brent Tompkins of Traverse City and Mike Lynch of Weidman. These two men then founded the White Shoal Light Historical Preservation Society, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, whose mission is to fully restore the lighthouse to mid-1950s vintage and make it accessible to the public for day tours and overnight stays.

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