Scenic USA - Indiana

Michigan City Lighthouse

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Michigan City East Pierhead Lighthouse - Indiana

Photo by John Mueller
Old Michigan City Lighthouse (inset) by Anne Swoboda

     Lake Michigan, one of the world's largest freshwater lakes, is the only Great Lake located entirely within Americaís borders. Touching four U.S. States, Indiana inherits the shortest section of Lake Michigan shoreline. The state enjoys a nice section of its lake frontage, protected as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Hugging a coastline thatís crowded with residential and industrial development, the lakeside park covers 15 miles of the Lake Michigan southern shore.
     In 1830, only 14 years after Indiana Statehood, Michigan City was placed on the map. Old Michigan City Lighthouse - Indiana Built on a lakeside dune (just north of Indiana Dunes National Park) and around the waters of Trail Creek, the city quickly gained mid-western prominence, incorporating just six years later. The city's founder, Isaac C. Elston, knew that the Michigan City harbor was an important link to prosperity. Eyeing success, Elston deeded a tract of his land for the placement of a lighthouse. Although the first light was a simple post-light, a lantern on a pole, the city's first light station followed in 1837. During the few decades to follow it was recognized that a brighter lighthouse was needed. Built of Cream City brick, the new light station housed a 5th order Fresnel lens, broadcasting its beam 15 miles into the lake.
     Drifting sands and a much too shallow Trail Creek led to decades of harbor improvements. Not willing to give up on their initial dreams of a prosperous harbor, dredges, entrance piers and breakwaters kept contractors and the Army Corp of Engineers busy for over a half century. As the breakwater continued to stretch further out into the lake, the lighthouse board delayed placement of navigational beacons. Finally, during the summer of 1904, crews assembled three metal light towers. The East Pier Lighthouse included a steam powered fog signal and used the Fresnel lens from the old shoreline light station. All of these new improvements were soon tested the following year when a devastating gale took out a section of the east breakwater and toppled the West Pier Lighthouse into the lake.
     Today, the East Pier Lighthouse continues to show off its 1917 brightly colored paint scheme. The Michigan City Light is accessed by one of the few Great Lakes breakwaters with elevated catwalks. The U.S. Coast Guard considered removing the east pier catwalk to lower maintenance costs, but city residents rallied to save the structure and it's now recognized with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Michigan City acquired the lighthouse in 2007, as the Coast Guard continues to cut costs and clear out its excess inventory.

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