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If you’ve heard the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” you know that come wintertime, the Great Lakes aren’t the safest place to be. The lakes are prone to massive winter gales and volatile weather. However, such extremes can also lead to an unusually beautiful display — lighthouses on piers jutting out into the water, completely encased in ice. Waves crash onto the lighthouses, coating them in water that solidifies almost instantly in the freezing temperatures. These are six of the most stunning lighthouses on the Great Lakes that look especially beautiful during winter.
Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse, Ohio
Also called the Cleveland Harbor Main Entrance Lighthouse, this lighthouse sits on the west side of Lake Erie’s entrance into Cleveland Harbor and the Cuyahoga River. It began operation on March 25, 1911, and the tower was first made from cast iron and housed the lighthouse keeper’s quarters. It was replaced by a steel tower and was electrified in 1931, then automated in 1965. The lighthouse is unfortunately not open to the public since it’s located on private land, but can, however, be viewed easily on boat tours and from city lakefront parks.
St. Joseph North Pier Outer and Inner Lighthouses, Michigan
The St. Joseph North Pier Outer and Inner Lighthouses jut out onto Lake Michigan from St. Joseph, Michigan. The first lighthouse on the site was built in 1832 and replaced by a round, stone tower in 1859. The tower was then replaced by range lights (a pair of beacon lights) in 1907 when the pier was extended and more light was needed to illuminate the wharf. The two lights are connected by an elevated catwalk that stretches all the way back to shore. The one furthest out, the outer light, is a 35-foot-tall, cast iron tower with a watch room and lantern room at the top, and the inner light is actually a fog signal building with a lantern room on top. If you want to visit, you can walk out onto the pier but will need to purchase a tour of the lighthouse.
South Haven Light, Michigan
At the entrance of Lake Michigan to the Black River in Michigan, the South Haven Light has illuminated the shoreline since 1872. The original lighthouse was built from wood with a catwalk connected to land. In 1903, the lighthouse was rebuilt from cast iron; the catwalk, though, is still the original — one of only four left in the state. The Historical Association of South Haven owns the lighthouse now, as well as the lighthouse keeper’s home. The grounds surrounding the lighthouse are open to visitors, who can walk out to the end of the pier. The former lighthouse keeper’s home is now a maritime research library. Those interested in diving deeper into the history of the lighthouse can read three digitized logbooks from lighthouse keeper James Donahue, who worked at South Haven Light after losing his leg in the Civil War.
Muskegon South Breakwater Light, Michigan
The Muskegon South Breakwater Light stands at the entrance to the Lake Muskegon Channel about a half-mile onto Lake Michigan from the shoreline. Built in 1931, the lighthouse is 63 feet tall and accessible from a concrete pier. The first 10 feet are a rectangular entrance to the first floor, and the remaining 53 form a pyramidal, red tower with a light on top. Inside, the entire structure is unpainted and the landings are bare concrete. Muskegon South Breakwater Light was never used as living quarters, so the interior is as simple as possible. Visitors can walk out to the lighthouse on the pier, but the tower itself is closed until restoration work is completed. Private tours can be arranged through the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.
Grand Haven Lighthouse, Michigan
The first Grand Haven Lighthouse began operation in 1839, but unfortunately its location on a beach caused it to collapse from erosion by 1852. Another lighthouse was built three years later on a bluff near the beach, and remained for about 50 years. Grand Haven’s south pier extends into Lake Michigan at the Grand River Channel entrance, across from the bluff lighthouse. A pierhead light was placed at the end of it, and another tower (the red, cylindrical lighthouse seen today) was erected in 1904. The bluff lighthouse’s light was moved into the new lighthouse the following year, but everyone apparently forgot to tell the ship captains. Luckily, they knew the area well enough to avoid running aground. Today, the building at the very end of the pier is a foghorn house, which was originally built in 1875 for the bluff lighthouse. It was moved to the pier in 1922. A lighted catwalk connects the shore to the lighthouse and the foghorn house. Typically, visitors can walk out onto the pier, but it’s currently closed for resurfacing. The lighthouses can be viewed from the north pier and Grand Haven State Park.
Ludington North Breakwater Light, Michigan
Aside from being ranked the top lighthouse to visit in Michigan, the Ludington North Breakwater Light isn’t technically a lighthouse, since there was never any “home” inside. The first iteration of the light began operating in 1871. It was only 25 feet tall and had only one service room, forcing the lightkeeper to fight treacherous weather to keep it glowing in the winter. By 1914, the number of carferries coming into port drastically increased (there’s still a ferry that carries passengers and their vehicles across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin) and the lighthouse couldn’t handle the traffic. So, the present tower — a white, four-sided, pyramidal, steel lighthouse with four portholes on each side — was built 10 years later. It sits on top of a base that resembles a boat’s bow. The shape is meant to deflect Lake Michigan’s waves. The light was automated in 1972, and is open for tours and tower climbs, arranged by the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association.