Michigan is a land of many blessings, both natural and cultural.
One place where the two intersect is along our coastline, where an impressive array of 19th and 20th century lighthouses, many of them still active, protect mariners from the perils of wind, weather and shoal, while providing the rest of us fascinating insight on our collective history.
With 123 still standing, Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the nation.
Recently – before the premature descent of the winter chill – I had the opportunity to tour three of them in the Thumb, Pt. aux Barques, Port Austin Reef and Harbor Beach. It was a truly bracing experience.
Each has benefitted from the devotion of local government officials and preservation societies who are dedicated to protecting their unique architecture and heritage.
At Pt. aux Barques, which opened in 1848 and is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, I was treated to the exhibit of its classic Fresnel Lens (recently returned to the lighthouse after several decades offsite) and a tour of the 157-year-old tower.
At the tip of the Thumb, we took a boat tour to Pt. Austin Reef, an offshore landmark that has warned mariners away from the danger of shallow obstruction since 1878, and where planning is under way to convert its former keeper quarters into a bed and breakfast resort.
To the east, the Harbor Beach Lighthouse stands at the entry to the harbor originally constructed in the 19th century as a refuge for ships navigating the sometimes deadly waters of Lake Huron. It too, is open seasonally for public tours.
That Michigan’s lighthouses played a crucial role in the development of our state as the center of commerce and recreation on the Great Lakes is undeniable.
Also undeniable is the role they play today, both as a continuing aid to navigation and a source of cultural pride.
Like many of you, the Great Lakes are an important part of who I am, and I’m proud to have played a small role in preserving our Great Lakes lighthouse heritage by initiating the specialty lighthouse license plate program when I served as Secretary of State in the 1990s. Funds raised from theses plates have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to preservation efforts at lighthouses all over Michigan including, earlier this year, Pt. aux Barques and Pt. Austin Reef.
Our fellow citizens who have devoted so much time and energy to those preservation efforts deserve our thanks. And I encourage all of you to visit a Michigan lighthouse and see for yourself.