Aux Barques Light
originally appeared in the Fall, 2004 issue of
Great Laker magazine.
Why a Lighthouse Here?
The next light to the north was located at Thunder Bay Island (1832), over 150 miles north of Fort Gratiot. Any vessel sailing up the Lake Huron coast stood a good chance of going aground on the reef extending out from Pointe aux Barques. The reef is only covered by some two feet of water and protrudes nearly two miles into Lake Huron. Early explorers in the area recognized the reef and gave it the name which translates to “Point of Little Boats”. The message is clear – don’t take a big boat too close to shore.
Pointe aux Barques was also used as a turning point for vessels destined to the Saginaw River. Range lights had been established at the mouth of the Saginaw River as early as 1841, but the trip to Saginaw Bay required steering clear of Pointe aux Barques reef. If fact, more than 100 vessels have met their fate on these rocks.
The first light tower was built on this location in 1847, at a cost of $5,000. It was first lighted for the 1848 shipping season. However, as was often the case, the first tower was poorly constructed and needed to be replaced after only 10 years. The present 1857 light is a conical white brick tower, 89-feet tall, with a focal plane of 93-feet above Lake Huron. A rotating Third Order Fresnel lens provided a flash every two minutes visible as far 16 miles out on the lake. The tower is attached to a 2-story brick keeper’s dwelling by a matching brick passageway.
While the new taller light tower helped guide vessels away from the hazardous reef, wrecks continued to occur. In 1875 a United States Life Saving Service station was erected just south of the lighthouse. As you will learn when you visit the lighthouse, the life savers were not bored by lack of “customers”, as vessels still managed to end up on the rocky point.
An assistant keeper's house was added in 1908, and the light was upgraded to an incandescent vapor lamp in 1914. The change increased the lights range to 18 miles over the lake, and further protection was added in 1918 with the addition of a lighted bell buoy some two and a quarter miles off shore at the end of the point.
Electricity came to Point aux Barques in 1932, and the incandescent light bulb in the Third Order lens provided an output of 120,000 candlepower. The signal was further improved in around 1950 with the removal of the Fresnel lens and the installation of rotating airport-type beacons rated at 1,000,000 candlepower.
Pointe aux Barques Today
Another room interprets the many ship wrecks that lie under the local waters. Much of the shipwreck collection has been accumulated by Capt. Ronald Burkhard, who along with his wife Judy, were some of the founders of the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Society. Capt. Burkhard operates a wreck diving business and has identified many ships that ended their careers on the reef. A large wall map, pinpointing known wrecks, is located in the museum.
PaB Lighthouse Society
Prior to the transfer of ownership, the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Society (PaBLS) was founded in 2002. The organization is dedicated to preserving and restoring the light station and museums located inside. The society is also looking forward to celebrating the station’s 150th anniversary in 2007.
A 3-day geophysical survey was completed in May of 2003 by Prof. Nassaney and three associates. The survey identified a both circular and rectangular foundation. The circular foundation is believed to be the base of the 1847 tower and the rectangular shape may be the original keeper’s dwelling which was reputed to have been burned down. The PaBLS has been entrusted with a number of artifacts which were recovered from the survey and are on display in the museum.
A Third Local Museum
The present Huron City is a collection of historically significant structures all dating from the early 1880’s, and is listed as a historic district in the National Register. The original Third Order Fresnel lens, from Pointe aux Barques, is on display at the Grice Museum in Huron City.
The station is located on Lighthouse Road, off M-25, seven miles north of Port Hope and eleven miles south of Port Austin. It is a Huron County park. A campground is located adjacent to the base of the light. Visitors can easily spend the better part of a day touring the lighthouse museums and Huron City, or just enjoying the beauty of the Lake Huron shore.
More information about Pointe aux Barques can be found on the web at , via e-mail at , or by mail at 7170 Lighthouse Road, Port Hope, MI 48468-9759.
The Huron city museum is located on Lighthouse Road, a little over 2 miles north of Pointe aux Barques. Huron City information and open hours is available at .
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