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Season opener

Maritime museum offers lighthouse tours, historic exhibits, events

Inside the Marquette Maritime Museum, located at 300 N. Lakeshore Boulevard, in Marquette, a wealth of exhibits on famous shipwrecks and local maritime history are featured. Visitors can learn more about the famous wrecks of the Henry B. Smith and the Edmund Fitzgerald and even watch video footage of shipwreck explorations at the museum. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Those who wish to explore Marquette’s iconic harbor lighthouse and learn more about the area’s rich maritime history are in luck, as the Marquette Maritime Museum, located at 300 N. Lakeshore Boulevard, has opened for the season.

The museum, which opened for the season Tuesday, offers lighthouse tours and extensive exhibits regarding the maritime history of Marquette and the surrounding areas.

Guests of all ages, visitors and locals alike, can enjoy themselves while learning something new, Marquette Maritime Museum Director Hilary Billman said.

“I just think there’s so much history around Lake Superior and the shipping industry and everything, it’s just so important to how Marquette formed and why we are they way we are today,” Billman said, noting that she highly recommends the museum to locals who haven’t yet had a chance to visit.

The museum, which is housed in Marquette’s historic City Waterworks building, opened in 1984 and has hosted thousands of visitors in the years since.

The museum offers guided tours of the iconic Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, which was built in 1866. Vistiors can enjoy the stunning panoramic views of Lake Superior from the lighthouse and its catwalk on the regularly offered tours. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

One highlight is the museum’s collection of Fresnel lenses that were used in area lighthouses.

The collection of lens glitters beneath the museum lights, with interpretive signs providing a wealth of information on history of the instruments and the lighthouses they served.

“It’s amazing to see the Fresnel lenses, it really is — they’re like works of art,” Billman said, noting that they have the lens used on Stannard Rock Lighthouse on display, as well as several other lenses, including one similar to the lens used in the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse.

The museum also features a large model of Marquette’s Lower Harbor in the 1950s — while it contains many landmarks and features that still stand today, the appearance of the lower harbor at that time may surprise many who didn’t live in the area at that time, even if they’ve seen photos of harbor from that era.

Extensive exhibits on famous Lake Superior shipwrecks are also offered.

A fourth-order Fresnel lens, similar to the one that was in Marquette’s Harbor Lighthouse, shines at the Marquette Maritime Museum. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

Guests can view a map detailing the locations of shipwrecks on Lake Superior, as well as exhibits on the famous wrecks of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Henry B. Smith, complete with motion-activated video monitors that play shipwreck exploration footage.

Visitors can also take guided tour of the iconic Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, which was built in 1866 and still functions as an important navigational aid for ships on Lake Superior.

The lighthouse is one of the “most historic navigation beacons on Lake Superior and critical to the development of the Great Lakes iron ore trade,” according to the museum’s website.

The tour offers attendees a look inside the historic lighthouse keeper’s quarters, which housed Coast Guard members and their families until 1998 — the quarters now host a variety of historical artifacts, photos and paintings related to the lighthouse and Marquette’s maritime history.

The tour also gives visitors a chance to walk out on the lighthouse catwalk, which extends from the lighthouse to the peninsula’s rocky point.

The catwalk offers a spectacular panoramic view of Marquette’s harbor on Lake Superior.

“Getting to go out on that lighthouse point and out on that catwalk, it’s just amazing, there’s not many places you can go like that and get out and see, you know,” Billman said. “You can see both ore docks from there, you can see the upper harbor and the lower harbor. It’s the only place in Marquette you can see that,” Billman said.

While the lighthouse tours offer impressive views any time of day, the view over the lake at sunrise is a special treat — the museum will offer sunrise tours, as well as evening tours, of the lighthouse over the summer.

“We also do special lighthouse tours throughout the summer. Last year, we started a sunrise and coffee series were, we had coffee and donuts and then people would go out with their cameras and just get beautiful pictures of the sunrise out there,” Billman said.

The first sunrise tour this season will be offered June 12, while the first evening tour will be offered June 19. Lighthouse tours are regularly offered Sunday through Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m, weather permitting. Call 906-226-2006 for information on tours and specific times for sunrise and evening tours.

The tours can be offered because the lighthouse, the keeper’s house, the lifesaving service station house and surrounding property, which had been owned by the Coast Guard, were transferred to the City of Marquette on the lighthouse’s 150th anniversary, July 30, 2016, for use as a public park.

With this transfer, the Maritime Museum has entered an agreement with the city to offer interpretive tours of the lighthouse and its grounds.

As the lands are now public, Billman says she anticipates more visitors to the lighthouse and surrounding grounds.

“They’ll probably be a lot more people in Lighthouse Park just because it is open to the public now,” Billman said, noting that while access to the lighthouse and the catwalk will only be available through tours, the public can walk the grounds freely.

Beyond offering lighthouse tours over the summer, the museum also has a number of special events on tap.

“We’re starting a fundraiser that we hope to do every year. It’s called Savoring the Past: Menus of the Great Lakes,” Billman said. “And we’re going to take menus from different vessels on Lake Superior, like passenger vessels or ore boats and cook different small plate foods from all these different vessels.”

The event will be held on June 24 from 5-7 p.m. at the Lake Superior Boatyard. Tickets can be purchased for $50 at the museum or EventBrite.

In addition to these events, the museum will also hold Children’s Day on June 16, a children’s mural painting workshop on June 25, Senior Day on June 27 and an exhibit featuring the art of wooden boats on June 30.

The museum is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information on the museum, exhibits and upcoming events, visit mqtmaritimemuseum.com or call 906-226-2006.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.