$60,000 Grant Will Restore Lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac
It’s just a stone’s throw from the Mystery Spot, and you might see it down below as you visit the scenic overlook on US 2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The historic St. Helena Island Light Station in the Straits of Mackinac, just west of the Mighty Mac, was boarded up in 1922. But efforts to resurrect the lighthouse began in 1986, and a new grant will go toward more repairs and restoration.
The $60,000 grant from the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office will allow the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA) to remove all existing paint from the lighthouse tower, replace deteriorated mortar and brick, clean all masonry and stone surfaces, replace sealant around openings, rehabilitate the lantern to be watertight, and repaint the entire tower.
“The lighthouses that dot Michigan’s vast coastlines and stand tall offshore are vulnerable to the elements and require upkeep,” said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Martha MacFarlane-Faes. “SHPO’s lighthouse preservation grants help lighthouse stewards protect and preserve these beacons for all of us.”
Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association Co-President Mark Siegman said “The ‘Miracle in the Straits of Mackinac’ has stood for 147 years and with the investment of the grant funds, the tower will stand proudly shining its beacon for many years to come.”
The St. Helena Island Light Station began undergoing extensive restoration in 1986 when the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association obtained a license from the U.S. Coast Guard to restore the light station. With the help of a group of volunteers, work began on clearing years of accumulated debris and brush and securing the station for eventual restoration.
The lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, and two years later the boys and parents of Boy Scout Troop 4 of Ann Arbor began what would become an annual pilgrimage to St. Helena to assist with the restoration. After hearing of the group’s success, numerous other youth groups, church groups, and Girl Scouts began to assist with the restoration.
Today St. Helena has largely been restored to its turn of the twentieth-century appearance, but maintenance work is ongoing, due to age and exposure to the elements. Accessible by boat, the lighthouse offers tours, education workshops, events, and group activities, and also participates in the Volunteer Assistant Keepers program. For more information, visit here.
Funding for this program comes from the sale of specialty Save Our Lights license plates available at all Secretary of State branch offices. To date, SHPO has awarded more than $2.5 million in matching funds to help rehabilitate and preserve lighthouses for tourists and residents alike to explore and appreciate.
With more than 120 lighthouses standing sentinel along Michigan’s 3,200 miles of shoreline, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the country. The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program grants are intended to preserve and help protect the lighthouses, which in turn helps keep them open and an active part of local economies around the state as tourist destinations.
Many of Michigan’s lighthouses are open for tours, if only seasonally. Others are home to bed and breakfast lodging or museums. Many lighthouse beacons are still active aids to navigation, but the buildings themselves are owned and maintained by a nonprofit organization or local unit of government. A few are privately owned or in remote locations, inviting admiration from afar.
The Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association holds cruises and excursions throughout the Great Lakes, allowing passengers to view lighthouses that would be virtually impossible to see any other way. To learn more, visit here. Visit michigan.org to learn more about Michigan’s lighthouses and how to experience them.
For more information about the St. Helena Light or GLLKA, visit https://www.gllka.com/sthelena.html.