Visiting North Country Light

MUNISING — Grand Island, half a mile from Munising, covers more than 13,000 acres and boasts 35 miles of Lake Superior shoreline. The island was home to Ojibwa settlements and fur trading outposts in its early history.

In the 1840s, an Illinois farmer named Abraham Williams homesteaded on Grand Island, establishing a blacksmith shop, farm, maple syrup business, and trading facility. In 1900, the Cliffs company purchased Grand Island.

The Cliffs project was headed by regional developer William G. Mather. Mather renovated the old Williams house, transforming it into the Williams Hotel in 1904, and established a menagerie of exotic game animals including elk, caribou, and the only known herd of albino deer in captivity.

Grand Island’s highest point is an escarpment more than 300 feet above sea level. A lighthouse near this elevated site has guided shipping traffic for over a century. The North Light on Grand Island, normally not accessible by land, can typically only be seen from the water or in photographs.

The Marquette Regional History Center is offering a rare chance to tour this fascinating historical lighthouse, once the highest above sea level in the United States.

Originally constructed in 1855 in response to increased maritime traffic from the newly opened Soo Locks, the North Light was a key navigational marker for commercial vessels plying the southern shore of Lake Superior.

It is still listed as a functional light and is maintained annually by the Coast Guard.

Through the decades, this important maritime beacon was lit by different fuels, first whale oil, then lard oil, kerosene, acetylene, and finally electricity. In 1961, the beacon was converted to solar power, and moved to a purpose-built pole on the lighthouse grounds.

The current owners, Loren and Pat Graham, who lovingly restored the lighthouse property in the 1970s, installed solar power to the house as well, bringing modern comfort to this remote lakeside outpost. The North Light is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Until 1941, the North Light’s Fresnel lens was illuminated by hand, and the grounds always housed a lighthouse keeper and often an assistant keeper. One piece of North Light lore is the strange disappearance of the keeper and assistant in 1908.

The Grahams, both retired professors, have thoroughly investigated this mystery, but many questions remain about why these two government employees vanished from their posts 110 years ago.

MRHC will offer a limited number of adventurous patrons the chance to visit this Lake Superior landmark on Aug. 12. The Grahams will lead visitors on an unforgettable tour of the North Light property and speak about some of the interesting lighthouse artifacts they have discovered in their decades of caring for this special place.

Loren Graham will also sign copies of two books he authored. “Death at the Lighthouse” is an engrossing true crime mystery about the 1908 disappearance every history enthusiast should read to more richly appreciate the tangled web of early 20th century Upper Peninsula politics.

“The Face in the Rock” recounts the history of the Chippewa band that lived on Grand Island from the perspective of a brave named Powers of the Air.

The Grand Island trip will take place Aug. 12. Tickets, $125 including fancy bagged lunch, are available to MRHC members now.

If tickets do not sell out before July 16 we will open sales to the general public.

We’ll be offering 62 total tickets in two groups of 31 due to limited bus space on the island.

Group one will leave the boat launch in Munising at noon, group two will leave the boat launch at 1 p.m. This memorable trip will involve some hiking, so plan accordingly.

For more information or to reserve your space on this adventure, call 906-226-3571 or visit the History Center at 145 W. Spring St in downtown Marquette.