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HomeMI HistoryMichigan LighthousesSturgeon Point Lighthouse: Shipwrecks and Lore

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse: Shipwrecks and Lore

In the heart of the 19th century, a pressing need emerged amid the rolling waves of Lake Huron near Thunder Bay. The maritime traffic along the vast Great Lakes was on the rise, and the perilous waters encircling Thunder Bay posed a threat to countless seafarers. A beacon of safety was required, thus giving birth to Sturgeon Point Lighthouse.

The year was 1869 when the construction of this beacon of hope began, soon to stand tall in the iconic Cape Cod style. A year later, on November 1, 1870, its inaugural light pierced the darkness, a steadfast guide for ships navigating the tumultuous waters and rocky shores. Rising to a towering height of 70 feet, its 4th Order Fresnel lens emitted a brilliant beam that reached a staggering 15 miles into the horizon.

Nelson Stillwell assumed the post of the lighthouse’s first keeper, dedicating himself to its constant care and vigilant operation. A dedicated guardian, he ensured the light shone bright and true, safeguarding countless lives.

Venturing into the annals of maritime history, Sturgeon Point Lighthouse has held its ground as a witness to dozens of shipwrecks. Among these tales, two stand out in vivid detail – the stories of the Cornelia B. Windiate and the Joseph S. Fay.

Abandoned Lifesaving boat on premises of Sturgeon Point Lighthouse.

The Cornelia B., a wooden steamer, embarked from Milwaukee carrying a heavy load of 21,000 bushels of wheat, well beyond her intended capacity of 16,000. Yet, destiny had different plans, for the raging gales of a November winter conspired against her, leaving no trace of her whereabouts. It wasn’t until 1986 that divers unveiled her submerged secret – resting 185 feet below Lake Huron’s surface, fully intact, her masts reaching for the heavens, and her precious cargo frozen in time.

Abandoned Capstan on premises of Lighthouse.

The Joseph S. Fay’s chapter unfolded on October 19, 1905, as an unrelenting gale swept her into a watery abyss. Amid crashing waves, a crew member was claimed by the unforgiving waters, while the rest clung to life. The vessel now lies in shallow waters, a mere 300 yards from the shore, with pieces littered upon the sandy beach, a haunting reminder of the tempestuous forces that govern the lakes.

The Modernization of the Lighthouse

In the tapestry of time, the gears of progress turned, and in 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard ushered in automation, relegating the role of a lighthouse keeper to history. The original Fresnel lens gave way to a modern optic system, adapting to the evolving maritime landscape.

Today, Sturgeon Point Lighthouse has transcended its duties, serving as a living testament to the tales of bravery and misfortune woven into the maritime fabric of Michigan. Open to visitors as a museum, it beckons all to step into its hallowed halls and relive the past. With a nod to the National Register of Historic Places, it stands not just as a beacon in the night, but as a sentinel of history and a guardian of Michigan’s maritime heritage.

Follow us as we highlight all 129 Michigan Lighthouses and the lore surrounding them.

Tamara Graham
Tamara Graham
With an adventurous spirit and a burning desire to make the world work for all of us, Tamara encourages others to embrace self-love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and an ever important sense of humor. With over 30 years of diverse marketing experience, including a decade in publishing, she brings a fresh and innovative perspective to the industry. Her concept revolves around experiential magazines that captivate both online and in print. Tamara's visionary project, LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™, unveils the wonders of our breathtaking home state, igniting love and admiration among Michiganders for where they live. By fostering this deep connection, she inspires a genuine appreciation and love for where we live!
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