Scenic USA - Michigan

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

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Harbor view of Copper Harbor Lighthouse - Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan

Photos by Ben Prepelka
Ben's Panoramio Gallery

     Just as any mining boom, whether it was gold, silver or in this case, copper, Keweenaw Peninsula attracted miners by the thousands. Without significant roads, the well protected Copper Harbor became quite busy as an initial supply point, seeing plenty of maritime traffic. Unsuccessful in its first attempts, the Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company employed some of the first Keweenaw miners. By the 1840s, the Copper Harbor area was described as a tent city. Even though other successful mines were located more to the south, Copper Harbor remained an active seaport, watching over tons of copper ore exports.
     The Copper Harbor Lighthouse, first established in 1848, following the usual pattern of lighthouse history. The first rubble stone tower was shoddily constructed and was deemed unsafe by 1864. The old tower was razed and its stone used in the foundation of a new light station. Copper Harbor Light Station Museum - Copper Harbor, MI Following a schoolhouse design, used in a half dozen Great lakes lighthouses, the new Cream City brick light station featured a 42 foot tower and reused the 4th order lens from the original tower. Those familiar with Great Lakes lighthouses will recognize the Copper Harbor Light's Cream City brick. Named for the city where it was made, Milwaukee became synonymous with cream colored brick. The red lacustrine clay turned to a pleasant shade of yellow after firing, and Milwaukee’s large amount of brick structures soon lead to the Cream City nickname.
     Because of the decrease in harbor traffic when mine production dropped off, the Lighthouse Board took steps to deactivate the light. The additions of range lights were soon found to be inadequate and the lighthouse was returned to duty in 1888. Lighthouse duties were uneventful until 1933, when a steel skeletal tower was erected, displaying a modern optic. Spelling the end of the lighthouse, the Fresnel lens was removed and shipped out for storage. The state of Michigan purchased the lighthouse and restored the lighthouse as a museum in 1975. Lighthouse tours are available in the summer months, complete with a 15 minute ride across the harbor to the light station. The lighthouse is part of the adjacent Fort Wilkins State Park, a great way to enjoy more Keweenaw Peninsula history.

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