Choix Point Light
By Dave Wobser
article first appeared in the April-June, 2004 issue of Great Laker
Traveling along US-2 across Lake Michigan’s northern
shore is a pleasant experience. The traveler is treated to views of sandy
beaches, pine trees and sometimes a bluff. Such enjoyable travel was not
always the case.
Hundreds of years ago, moving the across this region was a different story.
Native Americans and French explorers were traveling in canoes and later
small ‘Mackinac’ boats. It was readily apparent that along the 75 mile
stretch, from the Straits of Mackinac to today’s Manistique, there was only
one place to seek refuge from the storms that often sweep up Lake Michigan.
Realizing that the bay near the present day Port Inland was their only
choice, the French named the place Seul Choix, the French name for ‘Only
Choice’. The French pronunciation is “Sel-Shwa”, while locally the name is
spoken as “Sis-Shwa”.
Today, Seul Choix Point is a destination for lighthouse enthusiasts,
tourists and vacationers interested in local history. The former light
station at Seul Choix is home to a well-preserved collection of buildings, a
light tower that visitors can climb, a gift shop, a local history display, a
couple of rare marine navigation aid artifacts and a ghost. This is a place
you will want to visit.
As early as the 1600’s, the place became popular with Native
Americans due to the abundant stocks of whitefish and lake trout that were
waiting to be caught in the local waters of Lake Michigan. By the middle of
the 1800’s, a fishing village had been established. The first store or
trading post was built at Seul Choix about 1850.
The logging industry followed to take advantage of the vast timber
resources. Logging was soon followed by the Soo Line railroad in 1887 and
around 1930 a limestone quarry was developed. This early development brought
more and larger vessels to the area to transport the fish, lumber and
The early navigation aids along the northern Lake Michigan coast were the
lighthouses at St. Helena Island (1872) and Peninsula Point (1866). This
left a 100-mile gap of dark shoreline with Seul Choix Bay located near the
middle. Efforts were soon started to have a lighthouse constructed on Seul
Choix Point. The efforts were successful in 1886 when Congress appropriated
$15,000 to build a light tower and fog signal on the point. Another $8,000
was added before the project was completed. Various complications and the
rebuilding of the original tower delayed completion of the station.
The light was first shown in August, 1892, but the complex was not completed
until 1895 with the finishing of the fog signal building. The complex
consisted of the present conical 78-foot tower and attached 2-story keeper’s
dwelling, a steam fog signal building, stable, boathouse, two oil storage
buildings, a brick privy, and boat dock and tramway to the fog signal
The keeper’s dwelling was expanded in 1925 with a lean-to addition to the
west side. The interior living space was divided with a wall to provide
equal space for an additional family. The wall has since been removed, but
the building still contains two kitchen areas. Particular attention should
be paid to the unique rounded gables on the east end of the dwelling. While
they are reminiscent of a sailing schooner stern, history does not provide a
reason for this detail.
The 78-foot high white conical tower is the typical elaborate “Poe-Style”
named after General Orlando M. Poe who provided the
original design. The Poe-style light towers are easily recognized by the
ornate brackets which support the gallery around the lantern room and the
four windows below the gallery which have semi-circular stone arch head
A Third Order Fresnel lens, built by LePaute of Paris, displayed a steady
red light that was visible as far as 13 miles out in the lake. The lens base
still bears the lens manufacturer’s nameplate. The lens was housed in a
10-sided iron lantern room.
The Fresnel lens was replaced in 1972 with a modern rotating airport-type
Aerobeacon and the station was automated and abandoned in 1973. The Fresnel lens
was taken to USCG Station Soo and has since disappeared. Local historians
would appreciate any information that could lead to the return of the lens.
Seul Choix is a magnet for lighthouse enthusiasts and historians.
The lighthouse property was purchased from the Coast Guard in 1977 by the
Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Established in 1987, the Gulliver
Historical Society (GHS) is the current keeper and restorer of the light
station. Most of the original buildings remain on the site and are open to
visit, and the tower is open to climbing. This is a relatively rare
opportunity at an active aid to navigation.
The keeper’s dwelling has been restored and furnished
to the 1920’s. Ask the docent to point out the arch between rooms that has
been covered only on one side. This was done in 1925 when the building was
converted to a duplex. Look for the unique copper moldings around some of
the interior door frames. This decorative touch is not often found in
A few visitors at a time are allowed to climb to the
top of the tower. The views of Lake Michigan and nearby Port Inland are
excellent. You may even see a freighter making its way into the Port Inland
The fog signal building is home to displays telling the
history and development of the Gulliver area. The building also houses the
twin fog signal horns that were originally mounted on the lake side of the
building. A spiral staircase leads to the offices of the Gulliver Historical
A one-story, concrete brick building added for living
quarters after the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse, is now home to a
nice gift shop and video viewing area. The Gulliver Historical Society
library is also located here and research is available by appointment.
The former boathouse was moved in 1925 from the shore
of Lake Michigan to a location near the dwelling and served at various times
as a garage, temporary worker’s dormitory and horse stable. The structure
now serves as a local maritime museum. Among the many artifacts is a dug-out
canoe that is estimated by archeologists to be between 150 and 300 years
old, and probably pre-dates the white man coming to the area. The canoe was
found buried in the sand near the light station.
Near the tower, visitors should look for the
interesting bird house that is a replica of the lighthouse. The house was
built from an old fish box in 1934 by Willard Hanson, the 16-year old son of
keeper William Ludwig Hanson. The model includes parts from an old radio
tube and a glass jar. Keeper Hanson served as 2nd Assistant and 1st
Assistant at Seul Choix from 1925 to 1941.
The original frame horse stable, that had been
converted to an assistant keepers quarters, has been moved to a private lot
on the shore of MacDonald Lake. Visitors will pass it on the way to Seul
Choix. It is a small two-story building that is need of some paint.
Located on the lighthouse grounds are two 24-foot cast iron light
posts that bear the USLHE markings. These are fairly rare and not often
found intact. Only nine or ten are believed to still exist. Besides the two
at Seul Choix, two others are in the hands of the Michigan Lighthouse
Conservancy, two have been preserved at Whitefish Point, there is one each
at the USCG stations in Sault Ste. Marie and Grand Haven, and one is thought
to be in private hands. The USLHE stands for United States Lighthouse
Establishment which was the original name of the lighthouse service from
1789 to 1910, when the name was changed to United States Lighthouse Service
Our best efforts to learn more about these interesting
pieces of history indicates that they were unique to the St. Marys River,
and were used as channel marker lights. The concept was proposed around
1907, although there is some thought that the lights may date as early as
1880-1890. There were twelve original poles mounted on small concrete cribs.
The poles were painted red or green depending on their location in relation
to the channel. The towers originally used kerosene to provide light. Small
tank houses that held the fuel were mounted on the cribs with the light
poles. The fuel was changed from kerosene to acetylene around 1913, and the
lights were converted to electric power by 1921. (Note: Since this
article was published, we have learned that the light poles were used to
mark the Rock Cut, or Middle Neebish Channel in the St. Marys River.)
These navigation markers were eventually replaced by
the familiar light-weight skeleton towers and floating lighted buoys, many
of which are still in use today. There is some thought that the cast iron
poles may have been recycled as part of the World War II need for iron.
Anyone with additional information about these light poles, or pictures of
them in their original location, is invited to contact Great Laker and the
information will be published in future issues.
Over a number of years, I have visited lighthouses from Southern
California to the coast of Maine, and most of the lighthouses on the Great
Lakes. Increasingly, as lighthouses are transitioned from the USCG to local
historical groups or private ownership, stories are being revealed about
ghosts that inhabit or visit lighthouses.
There is little recorded evidence that these spirit
creatures were present during the first 250 or more years that the stations
were attended by the men and women of the USLHE, USLHS or the US Coast
Guard. Most of the alleged visitors from the spirit world are deceased light
keepers. This then begs the question: (1) Did the USCG automate and abandon
the lighthouses because it was too difficult to get personnel to serve at
haunted locations, or (2) have the apparitions been created by ambitious
historical societies and private owners to enhance the attractions to
visitors, or (3) are the former light keepers unhappy with the present
status of the light stations, or (4) are the former lighthouse keepers so
happy they just don’t want to leave? We’ll leave that up to the reader to
In any case, Seul Choix has a resident spirit that is
believed to be Captain Joseph Willy Townshend who served as keeper between
1901-1910. A number of persons, as early as 1960, have reported strange
happenings around the keeper’s dwelling, from moving silverware and a
‘self-closing’ Bible to footsteps on the stairs and the strong smell of
cigar smoke. Captain Townshend has been immortalized in a series of
children’s books set at the Seul Choix Light. The books include historical
facts and actual documented spirit sightings around the lighthouse and are
available in the gift shop.
Update - 1/21/2005
From Joseph VanderStel - Captain John Joseph Willy Townshend was a
sailing captain from Bristol, England, who was born in 1847. He came to
Michigan through Norfolk, Ontario in the 1870's. Captain Townshend was
a lighthouse keeper at Skillagalee and Waugoshance Shoal before he came to
Seul Choix. He married twice and had three children. His son, Ivan Townshend
worked as an assistant keeper at Seul Choix and at Sheboygan. Mr. VanderStel
is the great-great grandson of Captain Townshend.
Local resident Marilyn Fischer was instrumental in forming the GHS
in 1988, and has been the group’s president ever since. When asked if she
was the ‘mover and shaker’ of the organization, she added “I’m also our
local historian and a professional beggar”. Like any non-profit
organization, someone has to beg people to help with restoration, donations,
clean up and the hundreds of other things it takes to keep a lighthouse park
Ms. Fischer speaks highly of “our members, volunteer
tour guides and officer/directors, who continue to treat and take care of
the lighthouse as if it were their own”. She also notes that “our future
plans are to collect, identify and catalog the vast amount of maritime photo
collections that we have in our possession”.
Seul Choix is located in a Michigan State Park and is
operated by the GHS under a lease. The group is presently negotiating a
35-year lease that will permit GHS to continue the constant care and upkeep
of the lighthouse, buildings and park area.
In order to serve as housing for the assistant keeper, the station's
timber-framed barn was moved close to the main brick dwelling in 1907, and
converted into a two-story dwelling. After construction of anew brick
assistant's quarters off the main dwelling in 1925, the old structure was
sold and moved off site to a nearby inland lake. In the fall of 2006, the
old structure was moved back to the lighthouse site. Plans for a complete
restoration of the structure to its early 20th century appearance are now
Seul Choix Lighthouse and surrounding park is a Michigan wonderful
place to spend a day. You can tour the restored keeper’s dwelling, climb the
light tower, visit the museum in the fog signal building. Then there is the
maritime museum in the former boathouse, the gift shop, and an excellent
view of Lake Michigan.
The lighthouse is located in a Michigan State Park and
the site includes a public boat launch. There are picnic tables and shade
trees to complete the setting. All this is free. The GHS is a non-profit
organization and all donations, memorials, memberships or gifts go toward
the upkeep of the park and buildings. There is a $2.00 donation requested to
climb the tower.
The grounds are open year-around, and the buildings are
open from Memorial Day until October 15, between the hours of 10:00 AM and
6:00PM, seven days a week. The telephone number is 906-283-3183.
Getting there is easy. Several signs help guide the
traveler. Gulliver is located approximately eleven miles east of Manistique
on US Route 2. From US-2 in Gulliver, follow County Road 432 south about 4
miles to County Road 431. Turn right (west) on CR-431 another 4 miles to the
park. CR-431 is a good gravel road.
Note: Additional information concerning the St.
Marys River channel marker lights was provided by James S. Woodward,
USCG-Cleveland; Jeff Shook, Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy; and lighthouse
author and photographer Wayne Sapulski.