Historic Lighthouse Back in Service

Set on South Manitou Island, the lighthouse was built in 1839 to protect ships along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan.


| May 29, 2009



One of the loveliest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, the South Manitou Island Light is a favorite destination for hikers in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.

One of the loveliest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, the South Manitou Island Light is a favorite destination for hikers in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan..

courtesy Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau

Glen Arbor, Michigan – For more than a century, the elegant lighthouse on South Manitou Island guided ships past the treacherous sandbars of Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes. Decommissioned in 1958, it spent the next 50 years as a mute and lightless memorial to the heyday of Great Lakes sailing ships.

But the historic lighthouse is about to enter into a second career. On May 30, its lamp will be relit to shine once again across the storied Manitou Passage. 

 “Thanks to our generous supporters, the South Manitou light will shine on the horizon from May through October,” says Dusty Schultz, superintendent of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which administers the lighthouse and the island where it stands.

One of the most scenic lighthouses in the country, the 104-foot lighthouse was established in 1839 to mark the crescent-shaped bay at South Manitou, the only natural harbor along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan. It was strategically located on the heavily trafficked Manitou Passage, which was used by cost-conscious skippers on the 300-mile eastern route from Chicago to Mackinac Island. Schooners took refuge here during storms, and steamers stopped to take on wood for their boilers. The current tower dates from 1871.

Abandoned after its decommissioning, the lighthouse became a favorite attraction for day hikers and campers after the 1972 creation of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which includes the two Manitou Islands. Today, almost 9,000 people take the ferryboat ride to South Manitou each summer, where they climb to the top of the tower and explore the small village around the docks with its old post office (now a historical museum). Some hike to the rusting hulk of the freighter Francisco Morazan, which ran aground on the island in 1960, or snorkel around the wooden wreck of the lumber ship Three Brothers, which sank in 1911 – and hard-core island fans can stay as long as they like if they’re willing to camp.

But the idea of relighting the beacon remained a popular dream for local residents and members of the National Park Service, and was finally realized in late 2008 thanks to a partnership with the Manitou Island Memorial Society (a group that includes the descendents of former island residents) and Manitou Island Transit (which operates the ferry service from the mainland).





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