Manning Memorial  Lighthouse Seeing The Light

Empire, Michigan Home Back

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Historical Information

Robert H. Manning was a life-long resident of Empire, and as an avid fisherman, spent as much time as possible indulging his passion for fishing on Lake Michigan. When returning late in the evenings from such trips, he had a habit of stating that a lighthouse at Empire would make his return visits after sunset much easier.

On Robert's death at the age of 62 in 1989, his family and friends felt that the construction of an Empire Lighthouse dedicated to Robert would be the most fitting memorial possible, and thus set about the process of building such a structure.

With the aid of donations from many who knew Robert, their dream came to fruition in 1990 when the Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse was lighted for the first time.

The structure is of wooden construction, with a stucco coating. Bearing detail resemblance to the tower at Point Betsie, the white tower is capped with a green lantern room and railing, and features a bright gold ball at the apex of the lantern room roof.

Seeing this Light

Empire is one of the Great Lakes' historical gems. Consisting of a few ramshackle buildings, a busy combination gas station and convenience store and the headquarters of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, the area's rich historical heritage is not immediately evident. However for those willing to take the time to ask a few questions and look beyond the obvious, there are rich rewards to be discovered here.

Click to view enlarged imageThe lighthouse sits at the northern end of quiet park sandwiched between the serenity of Glen Lake and the rolling waves breaking along the beach. About a mile north of the park, the southern edge of the Sleeping Bear dunes can be seen pawing the horizon from within the surrounding new growth forest.

We parked our truck in one of the parking places near the lighthouse, and after admiring the structure's stark simplicity, ambled through the park. We were immediately taken by the quiet serenity of the place, shattered only by the cries of happy children running along the sandy beach as they ran to avoid the incoming waves.

As we made our way to the park entrance to the south, we became aware of two large, weather-beaten concrete piers, one with the remains of rusty bolts encased in its upper surface. It was plain that they had been here for some time, and we wondered as to their original purpose.

Click to view enlarged imageIt was only after we left the park, and spent some time nosing around town that the nature of these two silent concrete sentinels to the past became clear. For we discovered that it was in this location that the mighty Empire Lumber Company Mill stood. The concrete pier with the rusting bolts once serving as the foundation for the Mill's main band saw, the other as the foundation for the Mill's steam engine, and the now idyllic South Bar Lake functioning as the busy mill's main mill pond!

For while it is difficult to conceive through today's eyes, Empire was once a major lumbering center, and it's two long docks, long since rotted into oblivion, were once filled with vessels being loaded with lumber from the surrounding forest and the Manitous, bound for the growing cities on the the Lakes.

Finding this Light

From the intersection of M72 and M22, go west on Front street, Travel toward Lake Michigan until the intersection with Lake Street. Take Lake street North into the Empire Beach park. The memorial lighthouse is located at the northernmost end of the park.

Reference Sources

Personal observations at Empire on 09/05/1998 and 07/27/00.
Michigan Lighthouses, Laurie, Bill T., Ruth and Bill J. Penrose, 1996
Some Other Day (Remembering Empire), Empire Heritage Group, 1987
Photographs from author's personal collection.

This page last modified 05/08/2003

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