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Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (Whitefish Point Light Station)

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Whitefish Point Light Station
1861–present. 18335 N. Whitefish Point Rd., 5 miles northeast of Shelldrake
  • (Photograph by Balthazar Korab)

Since 1849 there has been a lighthouse at Whitefish Point to warn of the dangerous shoals and a narrowed shipping channel at the northern end of Whitefish Bay, an area so treacherous that it is known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes.” In 1847 Congress set aside some 115.5 acres at this isolated site and appropriated $5,000 for a small stone light tower and keeper's dwelling here.

The existing iron pile tower of the Whitefish Point Light was built in 1861 and is supported by an open pyramidal skeleton of horizontal and diagonal bracing built to withstand the severe winter weather off Lake Superior. A forty-two-foot-tall round cast-iron stair tower ascends to the lantern. The light was automated in 1970.

In 1996 the Coast Guard divided the Whitefish Point property into three parcels for transfer to new stewards: the Michigan Audubon Society (MAS), which operates a migratory bird observatory; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS). The GLSHS preserves and interprets maritime history with exhibits at the lightkeeper's dwelling, chief's quarters (1925), a boathouse (1923), fog signal building (1937), and other structures and in a museum opened in 1987 (Truman Cummings, Woodland Builders). The crew's quarters (1923) house staff and guests. Among the artifacts on display in the museum is the bronze bell recovered from the Edmund Fitzgerald (arguably the most famous of all the Great Lakes shipwrecks), which was lost with all hands on November 10, 1975. Resolution of a long-running dispute between MAS and GLSHS over management of Whitefish Point as a tourist attraction led to A Human Use/Natural Resources Management Plan for Whitefish Point (2008, Diekema Hamann) negotiated in 2001 that balances visitor services at the shipwreck museum with preserving sensitive habitat for birds migrating through here preparing for or recovering from their journey across Lake Superior.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert



Kathryn Bishop Eckert, "Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (Whitefish Point Light Station)", [Paradise, Michigan], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Michigan

Buildings of Michigan, Kathryn Bishop Eckert. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 558-559.

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