Tour Fort Gratiot Lighthouse - OLDEST LIGHTHOUSE in MICHIGAN! | See a 5th Order Fresnel Lens + Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron - Michigan Thumb Road Trip!
TTour Fort Gratiot Lighthouse - OLDEST LIGHTHOUSE in MICHIGAN! | See a 5th Order Fresnel Lens + Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron - Michigan Thumb Road Trip!
Travel-Mi.com | Updated: February 15, 2023
When visiting Port Huron Michigan, one of my favorite things to do is tour and climb the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse! Not only is it incredibly scenic, but this Michigan lighthouse is still in operation.
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is located at 2802 Omar Street (at the East end of Garfield St.) in Port Huron, MI. So many things to do in the thumb of Michigan!
What is Michigan's Oldest Lighthouse?
As you might have guessed, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is Michigan's Oldest Light house!
BUT IT WASN'T THE FIRST....
The first lighthouse in the Port Huron region was constructed in 1825 and was located approximately where the first Blue Water Bridge stands. However, the original tower was created with less than optimal design and poor construction (can't put a price on quality, right?).
So when a storm began to howl in 1828 the lighthouse met it's demise. Yikes!
- But Mr. Lucius Lyon didn't waste any time beginning construction of the brand new Lighthouse in 1829. This second Fort Gratiot Lighthouse was also erected in a new location, a perfect place for visibility. Looks like he did a stellar job since it's still standing to this day (thank goodness since we went up in it!)
The new tower was originally 74 feet high and 25 feet in diameter, constructed of brick and completed in December, 1829 along the waterfront.
But it wasn't tall enough...
In 1861, the height of the lighthouse was increased to 86 feet which increased visibility. In 1874 a brick duplex was added for the keeper and his assistants.
Fun Fact # 1: Lucius Lyon also became a Michigan Senator from 1837 to 1839.
If Fort Gratiot is the Oldest, What is the Newest Lighthouse in Michigan?
New Presque Isle Lighthouse! This lovely Michigan lighthouse is located at 4500 E Grand Lake Rd, Presque Isle, MI 49777.
New Presque Isle Lighthouse houses a gift shop and is open for climbing from late May through mid-October.
Fun Fact # 2: Fort Gratiot is the second oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes! Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the Great Lakes located in Ohio.
Let's Tour Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, The Oldest Lighthouse In Michigan!
View from the top of the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse!
Can You Go Inside the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse?
Can you climb the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse? Yes, on specific days and times. The Fort Gratiot Light Station is one of the few operating lighthouses where you can tour and climb the tour! Oh, and of course, walk out onto the catwalk if you are daring!
The views from the top are incredible!
From this 86 foot high vantage point, visitors can see the famous Blue Bridge, Lighthouse Beach, Lighthouse Park, St. Clair River, U.S. Coast Guard Station, Lake Huron to the north and Point Edward, Canada.
- Jan. 1 - March 31st the lighthouse is closed for the season.
- Parking is free and is located off the road near the giftshop.
So many things to do in the thumb of Michigan!
Fun Fact # 3: The tower wasn't this tall when it was originally built. In the 1860's the lighthouse was extended from 74 feet to its current height of a whopping 86 feet!
Be sure to wear walking shoes with closed toes as there are 94 iron stairs leading to the top of the lighthouse! Chris and I had such a fun experience climbing to the catwalk high above.
Is the Fort Gratiot Light Still Operational?
YES! The light was automated in 1933 and continues to guide shipping on Lake Huron into the narrow and fast moving St. Clair river.
Fun Fact # 4: Per the United States Coast Guard, the Michigan Historical Commission named Fort Gratiot Light a historic site in 1971.
See the 5th Order St. Clair Flats Canal Lower Light-Fresnel Lens
I'm always fascinated by Fresnel Lenses. This is a 5th order St. Clair Flats Canal Lower Light utilized from 1871 to 1932.
It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?
This 5th order light is on display due to the generosity of Peter Henkel. It's located in a building on the lighthouse grounds. (You'll see it during your paid lighthouse tour).
Per the information displayed at the museum, Fresnel lens' were very expensive to manufacture as they required special glass that few workshops had the capability to create.
So get this:
In the 1820's, Fresnel Lens' cost $5,000 which is almost $120,000 today! Bit spendy, no?
However, they were worth it as they produced a very bright light (more than any other light produced at that time), burned less fuel and were more durable.
The first 4th Order Fresnel lens was installed at the Fort Gratiot Light Station in 1857. It was ordered from France. In 1867 the fourth order lens was replaced with a 3rd order light from Point aux Barques lighthouse.
- It is suspected the the first lamps burned lard oil but in the 1881 keeper's logs, the illuminating apparatus changed to kerosene lamps.
In 1912, the illuminating apparatus was updated once again to utilize incandescent oil vapor lamps. It took until the 1930's for the lights to be electrified.
What is a Lyle Gun and Breeches Bouy?
On every Michigan tour, Chris and I make an effort to learn something new. If you make this your goal, it keeps your mind active and engaged in the moment! Maybe make it a game to see who can learn the most new things!
During your guided Fort Gratiot Lighthouse tour, you will get to see and learn about this interesting maritime artifact. United States life saving stations used the Lyle Gun and Breeches Bouy for rescues near the beach.
The line was woven in the box to prevent snagging when the Lyle Gun was fired.
Good idea, right?
During operation, the projectile was fired toward the ship's mast with a lead line. This line was then attached to the mast and the crew could then be brought to shore from the distressed ship.
The Lyle Gun and Breeches Bouy was used by the United States Coast Guard from 1874 until 1953 so it was obviously effective.
Tour the Fort Gratiot US Army Military Post Hospital
Lighthouse Park Gift Shop Has Wonderful Finds!
Inside the green garage doors is the Lighthouse Park Gift Shop where you can purchase tickets for tours to climb the lighthouse and grounds. Arrive early to shop for shirts, gifts and remembrances of your Michigan thumb road trips!
- There is also a nice bathroom inside the gift shop.
Lighthouse Beach and Lighthouse Park at Port Huron
Located right next to the lighthouse is Lighthouse Beach! What a lovely place to wander the shoreline after your lighthouse tour. I always make time for the beach on my Michigan thumb travels...It's one of my favorite things to do!
How Old is the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse?
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse was built in 1829!
Attend Blue Water SandFest!
Every August, watch master sand sculptors create incredible works of art...out of sand while listening to live music during the Blue Water SandFest. This fun Michigan festival is located at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron, Michigan.
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