Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Castle on the Straits: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse & a Giveaway!

My love for the lighthouse at Old Mackinac Point came long before I needed to research it for my novella, The Last Memory, in The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection. Around 1996 we started visiting the area each summer and renting a cottage almost 20 miles west of Mackinaw City. Around that time, efforts started being made to raise the more than two million dollars needed to restore this beacon on the Lake Huron side of Straits of Mackinac. One of the people who spearheaded this effort was actually the great-grandson of the man who built the lighthouse, John P. Schmitt.

In 2004, the beautiful buff-colored brick building reopened as a work-in-progress. First came the exhibits and eventually several rooms on the first floor of the lightkeeper's quarters were restored to the 1910 period. The kitchen was fitted with a cast iron stove, and an oak table and chairs in the cozy corner. The sitting room contains period furniture and a Victrola. And the dining room looks ready for guests. The exhibits include Fresnel lenses, former uniforms, and many facts about the area. Now docents dressed in costumes of the represented era give tours and answer questions. The men look official in their Lighthouse Service uniforms and the women are elegant in their long skirts and shirtwaists.

Beginning in the late 17th century, the French had built a mission and fort in St. Ignace. They later abandoned it for the south side of the straits at Old Mackinac Point where they built Fort Michilimackinac. It was an outpost of fur trade and defense, visited by voyageurs and military alike. In 1761 the British took over after the French and Indian War. Concerned about vulnerability, the old fort was abandoned, burned, and rebuilt on Mackinac Island, considered a stronger vantage po
Though the fort was buried in the sands, a town eventually arose in the area. As it was planned, in the mid-1800s, land was allotted for “Old Fort Park,” and some was preserved for the site of a future lighthouse. By then, lights had been established on Lake Michigan on the west side of the straits at Waugoshance Point and at Bois Blanc Island on Lake Huron on the west. The Straits of Mackinac could be treacherous with its shoals, reefs, and abundance of small islands, not to mention ice. It was a critical point for the passage of many ships heading west through the Great Lakes to the burgeoning ports of Milwaukee and Chicago. And Mackinac Island was becoming a tourist destination. The straits were a busy place of passage. In 1869, McGulpin Point Lighthouse was established west of Old Mackinac Point and several others were built in the years ahead. 

Eventually, the need for a more visible lighthouse on the Straits of Mackinac was established by the United States Lighthouse Board, since the McGulpin Point location was obscured by Old Mackinac Point. A lighthouse in Mackinaw City, though at a lower elevation would actually be visible to vessels coming from either direction.

First, $5,500 was provided for a fog signal on the approved site and was operational by 1890. Next, $20,000 was approved for the construction of the actual lighthouse which began in 1892 with a view to decommissioning the McGulpin Lighthouse as there was no need for both, but it remained open until 1906. 

Two homes were constructed under one roof, one for the head lighthouse keeper and the other for the assistant. One side had both a parlor and a sitting room, a kitchen, and dining room. Both apartments had three bedrooms upstairs. The dwellings were joined by a lobby and a service area, from where the tower could be accessed by either the light keeper or assistant light keeper. 

The castle style building was constructed on an Indiana limestone base and walls of Cream City brick. These buff yellow-gold bricks were made from clay dug up from near the city of Milwaukee. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the tower and became operational on October 25, 1892. Also on the property, stood the fog signal building, a small storage barn, and an oil house.

The rotating Fresnel lens glowed red until 1913, when the signal color was changed to white. At the time of my story, in 1899, the flame glowed from kerosene. Mechanical weights which needed to be wound, powered the turning actio

George Marshall, a Civil War veteran, became head lighthouse keeper in 1892. His four brothers had also entered the Lighthouse Service. He and his wife, Margaret, didn’t have children by birth, but had two adopted sons. One of them, his nephew Chester, went on to become a keeper at the Manitowac Lighthouse for over three decades. Chester’s father had been the assistant keeper at Mackinac Point from 1900-02, until ill health overtook him. George’s older son, James, took over for George when he retired in 1919. James lived there with his wife, Frances, and their three children, George, James, and Madonna. During his tenure electricity and a radio beacon were added to the lighthouse. He was the head lighthouse keeper until he had a stroke in 1940.

For nearly 50 years, a Marshall had manned the lighthouse. For the next ten years, Henrik Olsen took over the head lightkeeper’s duties. The last one to have the post was John P. Campbell from 1951-57. In addition, there were several assistant light keepers and even second assistants to bear the brunt of the workload at the castle on the straits. Once the Mackinac Bridge was completed, there was no longer a need for a lighthouse on Old Mackinac Point.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission acquired the decommissioned lighthouse in 1960. It was open to the public from 1972 until 1990 and closed due to lack of funds to properly maintain and restore the building, along with falling attendance. Still, the building stood, attesting to a bygone era and the people who worked hard to keep the Straits of Mackinac safe.

An effort to raise over two million dollars to restore the lighthouse and re-open it began in 1996. One of the people who spearheaded the effort was actually the great-grandson of the man who built the lighthouse! In 2004, the lighthouse opened again with a modest museum area and a gift shop (going by memory here). Each year we visited the Mackinaw City area, I would implore my husband to stop so we could again visit the exhibit and watch the gradual restoration to the 1910 era

To absorb the ambiance of the life of a Gilded Age lighthouse keeper to learn more about the importance of this crucial waterway on the Great Lakes, or climb the stairs to the tower for a spectacular view, visiting the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is the place to be! Here is more information for those interested in visiting this beautifully restored and maintained historical exhibit:

Lighthouses are full of history, romance, and mystery. What lighthouse would you like to visit?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection, with my story The Last Memory and six other great stories! One paperback will be given to a randomly chosen winner. Enter before 6 p.m., Sunday, November 26, 2018

Along the Great Lakes, America’s inland seas, lighthouses played a vital role in the growth of the nation. They shepherded settlers traveling by water to places that had no roads. These beacons of light required constant tending even in remote and often dangerous places. Brave men and women battled the elements and loneliness to keep the lights shining. Their sacrifice kept goods and immigrants moving. Seven romances set between 1883 and 1911 bring hope to these lonely keepers and love to weary hearts.

The Last Memory

1899—Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Natalie Brooks loses her past to amnesia, and Cal Waterson, the lighthouse keeper who rescues her, didn’t bargain on risking his heart—when her past might change everything.

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of thirty-some years, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.

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  1. I would like to visit more of the lighthouses in Maine, where I currently live. I've seen about 5 of them I think. I think maybe I need to keep a more formal tracking of them and see if it's doable to get them all in. Sounds like a good goal!!! Old Mackinac Point sounds like a great place to visit as well. Thanks for the post, and the giveaway!!

    1. Hi Connie! I understand there are differences between lighthouses on the Great Lakes and those on the ocean. I have never been to one on the seashore. I'm sure that would be interesting in itself. The Mackinac lighthouse is a great place to visit. I hope you get to see all the lighthouses you would like to see.

  2. Thank you for sharing your interesting post. My hubby and I visited Old Mackinac Point this past summer....wonderful!

    1. You're welcome, Melanie. I'm so glad you enjoyed Old Mackinac Point lighthouse. Such a beautiful place to visit!

  3. I loved every summer when we would go to maine because we got too see a lighthouse or 2. Always fun climbing those stair to see way up top. cheetahthecat1986ATgmailDOTcom

    1. Thank you for sharing, Kim. Not easy climbing all those stairs when it's especially
      hot out but worth the view. I'm amazed at how many lighthouses are still standing and are being cared for by different associations.

  4. wow this is such an interesting post. i love to read stories set in light houses. they hold romance and sometimes mystery. i find them fascinating. thanks for the chance to read this book. on my list. I dont know any light houses by name that i would like to visit, but someday i would like to just go along the coast and visit them. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

  5. I love these collections books, thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of this book.

    wfnren at aol dot com

  6. Glad you enjoyed the post, Lori. It would be a fun trip to take in lots of lighthouses

    along the coast.

  7. Thank you for the interesting post, Kathleen. I have always been fascinated with light houses, but I don't think I have every visited one. The Castle on the Straits looks so awesome! I would love to have visited it and the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. I am sad to hear the castle and the lighthouse are now closed for viewing. I don't have a specific light house I would like to see. I would like to visit one for sure one day. Your novella, The Last Memory, sounds so good! I love these collections by Barbour! Thank you for the chance to win a copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection!!! ~Alison Boss


  8. Oh my, Allison, I'm so glad you left this comment! Somehow I must have erased the end of my article as I did share how the lighthouse has been restored. I just took the photos above this past August. Yes, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is still open during tourist season.Thanks for your kind words about the Barbour Collections and also your impression of my novella. Have a blessed Thanksgiivng!

    1. Yay! THank you, Kathy, for letting me know that the Caastle and Lighthouse have reopened for tourists! I live in MI so we will definitely have to try to get up there this summer to check them out!

      ~Happy Thanksgiving!~


    2. Just so you, know, the "castle" and lighthouse are one and the same. The lighthouse tower is attached to the rest of the building. Because of the Norman-style architecture and the Cream City brick, it looks sort of like a castle. :) Didn't mean to confuse you. Nevertheless, I think you'll enjoy your visit there, Allison!

  9. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative post, Kathleen. I have never visited a lighthouse but have been fascinated by them.
    I loved reading The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection. The Last Memory was a favorite and what a darling six year old in the story.
    I do not need to be included in the giveaway since I have a copy that's been read and reviewed.
    Have a blessed Thanksgiving with family and friends.

  10. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, Marilyn. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Thank you for your kind words about The Last Memory. I had fun writing Lily's character and am glad you liked her. Happy you enjoyed the post as well. Have a lovely Thanksgiving with your family as well.

  11. What an interesting and informative post, Kathy. And what a beautiful lighthouse and home.

    1. Hi Janet, I sure appreciate your stopping by and leaving a comment.
      I'm glad you found my post informative. My camera didn't even do
      the house justice, so I think is even nicer than it looks here. ;)

  12. I love lighthouses. I visit them as much as possible. When we've been on road trips, I'd ask my husband to take the time to pull over to take a closer look at them. I'd love to read your stories. bluedawn95864 at gmail dot com

  13. Hi Bonnie, whenever we are up north and on one of the Great Lakes, I look for the lighthouses, so I know what you mean! Thanks for stopping by!

  14. So fascinating. Thank you for sharing that bit of history with all of us. Our family loves going to that park by the lighthouse.

    1. You're welcome, Kathleen. Such a lovely place to visit, isn't it?

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. I live on the Oregon coast and we have many, many different lighthouses to visit here! I've even visited some in Washington State (Cape Disappointment, Grays Harbor, and North Head). I find them fascinating! There's just so much history to learn about them. :-)
    I especially love that some out here you can take an actual tour of, or pay a day fee or have a State Park pass to visit (not go inside though). The tour guides are very informative about the history of that particular lighthouse, it just is so wonderful to learn!
    I've never been to Mackinaw City, MI but it would be a destination vacation if I ever got the chance to go. Seeing Old Mackinac Point lighthouse would be the highlight :-)

    Thanks for the fun post and giveaway chance for a copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides collection.

    teamob4 (at) gmail (dot) com

  17. Trixi, thank you for sharing. I'm sure the west coast has some very cool lighthouses to see. Not all Great Lakes lighthouses are restored as well as the one at Old Mackinac Point or open to the public, so I consider it a special and educational place. I hope you will get to visit it someday.

  18. Kathleen, thank you for sharing this interesting post. Lighthouses are so symbolic in many ways. I'm amazed at the stories behind them.


  19. You're welcome, Caryl. Glad you liked the post. I agreed, lighthouses are symbolic in many
    ways. Thank you for leaving a comment. Happy Thanksgiving!

  20. I think lighthouses and the people who manned them are amazing! Thanks for sharing about this one, I'm adding it to my travel list!

    colorvibrant at gmail dot com

  21. And the winner of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection is
    Kim Hansen. Congratulations, Kim!