Discovering Charlevoix County: Lighthouses, Festivals and Boats

Today on our blog, Jerry Roach, published photographer, historian, lecturer, preservationist, tour guide and author of three books on the lighthouses of Michigan, takes us on a tour of lighthouses (and other attractions) in the Charlevoix area. For more on lighthouses in Michigan, visit michigan.org.

My wife Barb and I began our quest to visit, document, and photograph all 123 Michigan lighthouses in 2000. Before we knew it that idea became a project to write a book on our Great Lakes Lighthouses. It also didn’t take us long to realize that getting to each light wasn’t going to be as easy as we hoped; there were a lot more lights offshore than we had estimated. One day while planning our next adventure, we happened upon a family which started a boat tour company the very same year we began our quest. The Keweenaw Excursion Company, operated by the Funkey family, began their tours of the Keweenaw Peninsula, based out of Houghton, Michigan.

In 2009, Fred, Kraig and Jason decided they could do more by moving the Keweenaw Star to Charlevoix, Michigan. Keweenaw Excursions is truly a family based business with over 60 years of experience plying the waters of the Great Lakes. Their boat, the Keweenaw Star was built in Louisiana as a crew boat which served the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. She was built in 1981 by a company called Camcraft, and is powered by three Detroit Diesels which can achieve a maximum 1900 horsepower. Believe it or not, the 110-foot long by 23-foot wide boat only needs 6-feet of water to navigate.

On this day we have chartered the Star to take us on a lighthouse tour on Lake Michigan. Our first stop was the Little Traverse Lighthouse. This light was built in 1884. A boat like this is one of the few ways a person can see this light; it is landlocked behind a gated community. Once everyone got the shots they wanted, we left this light and made our way towards Isle Aux Gallets, also known as the Skillagalee Island Light. This light was built in 1851. The next light on our tour was Gray’s Reef Light, which was first marked by a Lightship. The last few lights on our journey could be seen a short distance from our boat. We navigated towards White Shoal which was built in 1910 to replace the Waugoshance Shoal Light, the last lighthouse on our tour. Did you know that during World War II, the Waugoshance Light was used as a target for bombers to practice their drops?

In addition to Keweenaw Excursions you will also find the Beaver Island Boat Company located in Charlevoix. The Beaver Island Boat Company serves Beaver Island and is located at the mouth of Lake Charlevoix. Speaking of boats, you could spend hours just walking the docks, imagining life on one of these luxury liners.

Summer in Charlevoix is always busy beginning with the Morel Fest in nearby Boyne City followed by the Memorial Day Parade in Charlevoix. As June rolls around why not try your luck in the Trout Tournament on Lake Charlevoix? July is jumping with events like the Downtown Art Festival, the Venetian Festival and a Polish Festival at Boyne Falls. A Vintage Car Show rolls in to town come August, followed by a Regatta in September, and who could resist fresh cider during the Apple Festival in October? These are just a few of the many happenings in and around the Charlevoix area. For more information on these and other events and attractions, log on to www.charlevoix.org.  

Jerry Roach is a published photographer, historian, lecturer, preservationist, tour guide, and the author of three books on the lighthouse of Michigan. His books called the “Ultimate Guide” series include the The Ultimate Guide To West Michigan Lighthouses, The Ultimate Guide To East Michigan Lighthouses, and The Ultimate Guide To Upper Michigan Lighthouses. You can explore lighthouses of the world and especially the Great Lakes by visiting his website, view thousands of photos at his gallery, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

The Forgotten Coast: A Lighthouse Tour of Michigan’s Thumb

Today on our blog, Jerry Roach, published photographer, historian, lecturer, preservationist, tour guide, and author of three books on the lighthouse of Michigan, takes us on our tour of some of Michigan’s many lighthouses. For more on lighthouses in Michigan, visit michigan.org.

When you think about all the lighthouses in Michigan, where is the first region you think of that has the most lights? Probably the Upper Peninsula, maybe the Lake Michigan shoreline comes in a close second right? The Upper Peninsula does have the most lighthouses coming in at an amazing 57, but truth be told, the sunrise side of the Lower Peninsula comes in second with 34 lights. If you remember your history this all makes sense, because most of Michigan was developed by pioneers and explorers that arrived by ship, thus they arrived at the east coast first.

We will begin our tour in Port Huron. As a matter of fact, the first lighthouse built in Michigan was the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. With the expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the early 1800’s, larger ships could now begin to explore and ply the waters of the Great Lakes. That increase in ship traffic directly led to the need for navigational aids, which gave birth to hundreds of lighthouses which dot Michigan’s shoreline. The lighthouse arrived at Fort Gratiot in 1825, eleven years after construction on the Fort had concluded. There were two different towers that served this light and all of them stood at different heights. After decades of this light being closed to the public, the Port Huron Museum has assumed control of the operations and it can now be visited on a daily basis. While you are in Port Huron don’t forget to allow some time to explore the Huron Lightship just south of Fort Gratiot. Lightship 103 was built in 1920 at a cost of $147,428. This National Historic Landmark is dry docked in Pine Grove Park. The expertly restored lightship is open daily throughout the summer for tours. By the way, you may find this interesting; the Huron Lightship was the only lightship that remained on post during World War II.

Heading north on M-25 you will come to the city of Port Sanilac. The lighthouse here became operational on October 20, 1886. While the lighthouse is privately owned, there are excellent views of the light from the road. As we continue on our journey we arrive in Harbor Beach. Tours are available of the light by registering on the Harbor Beach Lighthouse website. You can also get great views from many of the parks in town. This area was developed as a harbor of refuge; an area where ships could escape the wrath from storms on Lake Huron. The Harbor Beach Lighthouse was built in 1885.

About 13 miles north of Harbor Beach, near the town of Port Hope is the Pt. Aux Barques Lighthouse. Loosely translated, Pt. Aux Barques means, point of boats. It is in this area where the lighthouse is located that the boats would begin their turns to either head south towards the St. Clair River or navigate the tip of the thumb to continue the voyage through Lake Huron. This very important lighthouse became operational in 1848. A very active preservation society has done a remarkable job restoring this light. Tours are available.

The remaining lights of the Thumb can only be viewed via public venues. The Port Austin Reef Light was built in 1878, and one of Michigan’s newest lights, the Caseville Harbor Light was constructed on July 25, 2001. Both are along M-25.

Why not plan your visit to these lighthouses during some fantastic summer celebrations? During July there is the Offshore Powerboat Races and the start of the Port Huron to Mackinac Yacht Race in the Port Huron area, and a Civil War Re-enactment near Port Austin. When August rolls around don’t forget to spend some time at the Huron County Fair near Harbor Beach, the Maritime Festival at Pt. Aux Barques, and who can forget the Cheeseburger Festival near Caseville. 

So the next time you’re looking for something to do on the weekend, or a couple of days during the week, take a nice relaxing trip along M-25 and explore Michigan’s forgotten coast and the lighthouses of the Thumb.

Jerry Roach is a published photographer, historian, lecturer, preservationist, tour guide, and the author of three books on the lighthouse of Michigan. His books called the “Ultimate Guide” series include the The Ultimate Guide To West Michigan Lighthouses, The Ultimate Guide To East Michigan Lighthouses, and The Ultimate Guide To Upper Michigan Lighthouses. You can explore lighthouses of the world and especially the Great Lakes by visiting his website, view thousands of photos at his gallery, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.