Hidden among the trees in northern Michigan and along the shores of Lake Huron in the Cheboygan State Park lies the ruins of the old Cheboygan Point Lighthouse. When sailing from the east, mariners have two options for reaching the Straits of Mackinac: the North Channel, between Mackinac Island and Round Island, or the South Channel, which passes between the southern side of Bois Blanc Island and the mainland.
On September 28, 1850, Congress appropriated $4,000 for a lighthouse “on the point of land about three miles east of Cheboygan River” and opposite the southern tip of Bois Blanc Island to guide vessels through the South Channel.
The first light at Cheboygan Point was built in 1851, and consisted in a dwelling and a separate round brick tower, which was fitted with a Fifth Order Fresnel lens made by L. Saultier & Company of Paris.
The light was built on a pier and after only eight years of service, high water was washing away at the foundation and the light tower was removed.
In 1859 the station was rebuilt as an 2,5 meters square wooden tower resting atop a two-story eight room dwelling. The new tower rose 7 meters above the house and included the same white light which was used in the earlier tower. In addition, in May 1890, a standard locomotive steam fog signal was installed in a separate building.
Besides guiding ships through the straits of Mackinaw the lighthouse marked also the entrance to Duncan Bay and Duncan City on the opposite side of the bay from the lighthouse.
Once the county seat of Cheboygan County (1853-1857), the city was named after Jeremiah Duncan who started lumbering in the area.
It had a population of about 500 souls in its heyday, and it was also a refueling stop for Great Lakes steamships: thanks to the lumber industry was considered one of the “busiest towns on the Great Lakes.”
Duncan City began to lose its importance when the Cheboygan River was dredged out deeper, thus allowing more shipping traffic to go to Cheboygan itself, that today serves as the county seat. The final blow for Duncan City came in 1898 when the sawmill burned to the ground. The property is now all residential and privately owned and nothing remains of the city today.
And the lighthouse? Why is it now just a pile of ruins?
When the nearby Fourteen Foot Shoal Light was constructed offshore in 1930, the old Cheboygan Light Station was abandoned and the land was deeded to the State of Michigan. Due the vandalism, the buildings were unceremoniously torn down in the 1940s when George Kling, son of Fred Kling, the last keeper of the lighthouse, purchased the station’s boathouse for $1 and moved it to his home in Cheboygan to serve as a garage. Former professional baseball pitcher Bill Singer acquired the lighthouse and sold its materials to Bert Toles, who used them to build three small houses.
All that remains today is the foundation of the old lighthouse, which you can see along the hiking trails at Cheboygan state park, that offers campsites, cabins, a picnic area, a beach, and a rich system of hiking trails. Green Trail leads to the ruins of the lighthouse’s stone foundation where there is interpretive signage. From the beach near the foundation, you can get a good view of Fourteen Foot Shoal Lighthouse, whose construction led to the demise of Cheboygan Lighthouse.
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Images from web -Google Research