The unique White Shoals Lighthouse is one of 28 lighthouses on the Great Lakes. This lighthouse’s location is on Lake Michigan, about 20 miles west of Mackinac Bridge. The shallow water in this area was a hazard to increasing ship travel in the 1880’s.
It was first determined at the time to use a lightship, instead of a fixed building, to warn sailors of the danger. The reason of using a lightship was because they would be less expensive and would be a quicker solution to the problem. So, the Blythe Craig Shipbuilding Company built a lightship for this location. The ship was 103 feet long and had three oil-burning lens lanterns, a steam whistle, and a bell. It was September 15, 1891 when the ship was completed, but it was not until October 24 that it was anchored in its designated place.
The lightship was taken in at the end of every shipping season, and it was put back out when the season began again. This was not an easy task to do and in 1906, Congress was asked to approve putting a permanent lighthouse in place of the lightship. On March 4, 1907 Congress approve $250,000 for the building of the lighthouse.
In 1907, Major William V. Judson began the task of building a lighthouse in the middle of Lake Michigan. An area underwater was made level, and then an 18.5-foot-tall by 72-foot square “crib” was dropped down on the leveled ground. The top of the “crib” sat 2 feet below the top of the water. Then a 4-foot-tall block base was constructed on top of this. On December 5, due to winter, work stopped but not before a temporary tower was put up with an acetylene-powered lens lantern.
The next year, work began by putting up steel framework for the lighthouse. Then it was lined with bricks and covered with terra cotta blocks. The base measured 42 feet in diameter and the top was 20 feet in diameter.
Work continued through 1910. After the construction was finished, the lighthouse was painted white. Then the Second Order Fresnel lens, built by Barbier, Benard & Turenne of Paris, was installed. September 1, 1910 was the first that the completed White Shoals Lighthouse shone its light.
Some additions where added to as time went on. In 1911 a submarine bell was installed about ¾ mile away from the “crib”. This warned the approaching ships a lot sooner than the fog signal. However, this submarine bell did not work like planned so it was no longer used after 1914. In 1913 two deck cranes were added. These cranes were used to unload supplies and raise/lower the lighthouse keeper’s boat. In 1930 generators where installed to provide electric to the lighthouse and to the living quarters. Finally, in 1976 the White Shoals Lighthouse was automated. In 1990 the lighthouse was repainted to a white and red spiral. This lighthouse is the only one, on the Great Lakes, to have this daymark.