Forty Mile Point Seeing The Light

Rogers City, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

With the major landmarks and dangers on the US side of Lake Huron already illuminated, in the final decades of the nineteenth century the Lighthouse Board turned its attention to creating a system of coast lights along the lake's western shore. In creating such a system, the Board planned to strategically located a series of lighthouses along the coastline in such a way that mariners would always be within sight of one light of the series.

While the Presque Isle Peninsula had been lighted since 1840, and the entrance to the Cheboygan River fifty miles to the north had been lighted since 1851, the New Presque Isle Light's range of visibility of 19 miles and the Cheboygan Light's visible range of 13 miles left an unlighted 18 mile intervening stretch of coastline along which mariners were forced to navigate blind. In it's annual report for fiscal 1890, the Board recommended that $25,000 be appropriated for the construction of a new light and fog signal at Forty Mile Point near Hammond's Bay, at the approximate mid point between the two lights.

Congress appears to have been unconvinced of the need to create such a system of contiguous coast lights, as a similar request for the funds to construct the light at Port Sanilac in 1869 had languished unresolved for 16 years before Congress finally provided the necessary appropriation in 1885. With this in mind, it is not surprising that the matter of the Light at Hammond's Bay remained unresolved until February 15, 1893, when Congress finally authorized the project, but failed to provide the necessary appropriation. The Board again requested funding in its 1894 annual report, with Congress freeing-up the funds as part of the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of August 18, 1894.

Click to view enlarged imageEleventh District Engineer Major Milton B. Adams selected and surveyed the site for the new Light. With an offer of $200 for the property accepted by the owner, Adams approved the plans and specifications for the station in February 1896. Contracts for the ironwork for the lantern, gallery, boilers and fog whistles were awarded soon thereafter, and with receipt of the materials at the Detroit depot, were loaded aboard the lighthouse tender AMARANTH and delivered to the site on July 5, 1896. Work at the site began with the construction of a wood-framed building, which would be used by the work crew as a temporary dwelling during construction, and converted into a barn for the keeper's horses on the completion of the work.

Click to view enlarged imageAdams' plan for the main lighthouse structure was a virtual duplicate of that simultaneously under construction at Big Bay Point on Lake Superior. Consisting of a duplex dwelling with a tower incorporated into the center of one side-wall, the structure stood 35 feet by 57 feet in plan. Erected on a 20" thick cut limestone foundation, the brick walls featured double walls with an air space between to provide insulation. The integrated tower stood twelve feet in plan, and fifty-two feet in height. The apartments on each side of the dwelling were exact mirrored duplicates and were set-up to afford complete privacy. Each apartment featured its own main entry, cellar, kitchen, parlor, tower entry door and stairway to the bedrooms on the second floor. Indicative of Adam's thoughtfulness in designing the structure, each of the stairways incorporated a skylight in its ceiling through which the lantern could be observed, thereby allowing both keeper and his assistant to verify the correct operation of the light from within the warmth of their apartment without having to leave the building or climb to the top of the tower itself to see the light. The brick tower was capped by a square gallery with iron safety railing, and a prefabricated octagonal cast iron lantern erected at its center.

Click to view enlarged imageA pair of brick privies were erected to the rear of the dwelling flanking the barn, and a well was sunk and equipped with a windmill-operated pump, which discharged water into an elevated tank to provide a supply of drinking water to the station. The brick fog signal building was erected approximately 290 feet southeast of the lighthouse. Outfitted with twin boilers installed on raised concrete pads, the boilers were piped to duplicate 10" steam whistles located on the lakeside wall and exhausted through a pair of iron smokestacks.

A 120-foot long T-shaped dock was erected between the fog signal building and the dwelling, with a boathouse for the Keeper's boat erected at its shore end. An iron-railed tramway led from the dock, across post supports to the shore to the fog signal building and thence behind the dwelling to the barn for the transportation of coal and supplies delivered by lighthouse tenders during their semi-annual supply visits. Finally, plank sidewalks were laid connecting all of the station's structures to provide easy and safe access to the keepers.

Click to view enlarged imageThe Eleventh District Lampist arrived from Detroit, and carefully assembled the Fourth Order Fresnel lens atop a cast iron pedestal within the lantern. Designed and manufactured by Henry-Lepaute in Paris, the lens was equipped with six bulls-eye flash panels. Powered by a clockwork mechanism, the lens was designed to be rotated around the lamp at a carefully regulated speed in order to emit the station's specified characteristic white flash every ten seconds.

Click to view enlarged imageWith construction completed on November 12, 1896 and winter setting in, it was deemed too late in the year to activate the Light. Thus, a caretaker was hired to live in and watch over the building until the appointment of a Keeper and Assistant at the opening of the following navigation season. Xavier Rains, who had been served for a year as Keeper of the Round Island Light in the St. Mary's River was selected as Keeper, and Edward Lane was promoted from his position as Second Assistant at Devils Island to Assistant at Forty Mile Point. Both Rains and Lane first appear on payroll records at Forty Mile Point on January 4, 1897. It is therefore likely that they arrived at the station on this date, and after preparing the station for operation, exhibited the Forty Mile Point Light for the first time on the night of May 1, 1897.

Click to view enlarged iamageWithin a year, problems were experienced with the drinking water supply, and a work crew arrived at the station to construct a new foundation, elevated support frame for the water tank, and completely replaced the water supply piping leading into the dwelling. In November 1900, the posts supporting the tramway from the dock to the shore were found to have deteriorated significantly, and were replaced by five substantial timber cribs filled with stone, and a log retaining wall was built along the sand bank behind the boathouse to stem erosion.

1901 saw the busiest year at the Forty-Mile Point fog signal station, with the whistles kept operating for a total of 274 hours, and consuming 7 tons of coal. By 1905, the twin iron smokestacks on the fog signal building were so badly rusted and decayed that they were replaced by a single, three-foot square brick chimney into which both boilers were exhausted.

Click to view enlarged imageOn October 19, 1905, the Lake was assaulted by fierce storms, and twenty seven wooden ships went down, with an accompanying loss of fifty lives. The wooden hulled steamer JOSEPH S. FAY was Southbound, towing the schooner barge D. P. RHODES, when the storm caused the RHODES to break free, dragging with her a portion of the FAY's stern. Finding his vessel to be sinking, the Captain of the FAY turned toward shore, only to catch her bow on a sandbar, swinging her around into the oncoming sea, ripping off the forward cabin. The Captain and ten crewmen were carried to shore safely within the cabin. Two crewmen made it to shore alive, but the First Mate was not so fortunate, His body was found on the beach about a mile to the north almost two months later.

Four years after assuming responsibility for the nation's aids to navigation, Commissioner of Lighthouses Charles R Putnam made the startling revelation that the Forty Mile Point Light had been built in the wrong location. In his 1913 annual report to Congress, he stated that the county survey charts used in selecting the site in 1896 were in error, and that vessel masters expected the lighthouse to be erected at Nine Mile Point, some 20 miles to the northeast, where a total of nine strandings had occurred between 1903 and 1909. With Eleventh District Inspector E L Woodruff's 's estimate that a new Light and fog signal could be built at Nine Mile Point for $50,000, Putnam suggested that with the appropriation, the Forty Mile Point Light could be downgraded, and the fog signal eliminated. After Putnam reiterated the request for the appropriation in his 1914 annual report, Congress responded turned down the request, and Putnam forever abandoned the cause.

Click to view enlarged imageThat same year, on July 10, 1914, the illuminating apparatus at Forty Mile Point was upgraded to an incandescent oil vapor (I.O.V) system with an increase in intensity to 55,000 candlepower and a resulting increase in the Light's visible range to 16 miles.

1931 saw the removal of the steam whistles from the fog signal building and the installation of a pair of Type F diaphones, representing a significant improvement in both the audible range and speed at which the signals could be activated. 

The station was automated in 1969, and is now part of a county park and one half of the dwelling has been turned into a museum, and the other half as quarters for the caretaker. The tower has been opened to the public, and visitors can climb the stairs to view the Fourth Order lens close up and enjoy the view across Lake Huron.

Keepers of this Light

Click here to see a complete listing of all Forty Mile Point Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

Go North from Rogers City on US23 approximately 6 miles to the entrance to the Presque Isle County Lighthouse Park. The entrance is on the East side of the road, and is signed. Drive down the narrow tree-lined entrance to the park to the Lake. There is a parking area behind the old fog signal building, and the lighthouse is to the North. Also walk to the beach and continue North a few hundred yards to see the remains of the wooden hulled steamer Joseph S. Fay.

The lighthouse is operated by the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society. For open hours and information, visit their website at

Society may also be reached at:
40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society
PO Box 205
Rogers City, MI 49779

Reference Sources

Annual reports of the Lighthouse Board, various, 1890 - 1909
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Service, 1910-1920
Annual report of the Lake Carrier's Association, 1913
Inventory of Historic Light Stations, NPS, 1994
Northern Lights, Charles K. Hyde, 1995
USCG Historian's Office - photographic archives.
Personal observation at Forty Mile Point, 09/11/1998
Photographs from the author's personal collection.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Tom & Phyllis Tag

Terry Pepper. This page last updated 02/07/2013.

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