“Big Red” – Holland Harbor Lighthouse4 min read
On the south side of the Holland Chanel, in Ottawa County at the entrance of a channel connecting Lake Michigan with Lake Macatawa, is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan, Holland Harbor Light.
After decades of local requests that went unanswered, in 1870 the United States Lighthouse Board finally recommended construction of the first light on the site, then approved by the U.S. Congress.
Its story began when, seeking a location for himself and his Dutch emigrant followers in 1847, the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte was attracted by the potential of using Lake Macatawa as a harbor.
Spurred by religious oppression, he led a group of sixty Dutch Calvinist separatists in 1846 from the Netherlands to America. The settlers made their way to New York and then struck out for Wisconsin, but an early winter forced a layover in Detroit.
There they learned about lands available in western Michigan, and Van Raalte eventually selected the banks of Black Lake, now known as Lake Macatawa, as their new home.
Despite the area is known today for its lovely setting on Lake Michigan and its annual tulip festival that features over six million tulips, in 1847, the area consisted of a swamp and an insect-infested forest.
The lake’s outlet to Lake Michigan was blocked by sandbars and silt, and the Reverend appealed to Congress for help.
The channel was surveyed in 1849, but was not successfully opened due to inadequate appropriations. Frustrated, the Dutch settlers dug the channel themselves and, as a result, on July 1, 1859, the small steamboat Huron put into port.
Here, in 1886, the government established the harbor’s first lifesaving station and by 1899 harbor work had been completed.
This spurred business and resort expansion and in 1900 over 1,095 schooners, steamers and barges used the harbor, carrying more than 34,861 tons of cargo that included 26,809 railroad ties, 23,275 pounds of barley, 5,490 bushels of potatoes, 17, 998 pounds of butter, and 8,540 dozen eggs.
Between 1866 and 1872, federal money finally came through, and in 1870 the first lighthouse was built using those federal funds — 20 years before Holland Harbor was finished.
Melgert Van Regenmorter, who was one of the original settlers that arrived with Van Raalte and later served in the Civil War, was hired as the light’s first keeper.
On May 26, 1890, a post light was established at the outer end of the extended south pier to form, with the main light, a range for entering the harbor. Later that year, the scow Breakaway carried away the post light while attempting to enter the harbor during a northwest gale. While leaving the harbor in 1892, the schooner R. Ranters broke three legs of the elevated walk along with a section of its stringers and railings.
At the turn of the century, a steel tower was built for the light and in 1907 the present structure was erected with also a fog signal. Named the Holland Harbor South Pierhead Lighthouse, it has a gabled roof that reflects the Dutch influence in the area.
Sixty-nine-year-old Keeper Van Regenmorter was still serving as keeper during the construction of the fog signal building, but he apparently decided to end his thirty-seven years of service rather than learn to run the new equipment!
In 1956 the tan colored building was sandblasted and painted red and was affectionately given the nickname of “Big Red”. The lighthouse used to be yellow and purple, but the U.S. Coast Guard painted it bright red, satisfying a requirement that all navigational aids on the right side of a harbor entrance must be red.
It was automated in 1932 and, when the U. S. Coast Guard recommended that it be abandoned in 1970, citizens circulated petitions to rescue it.
In 2007, the United States Department of the Interior announced that the Holland Harbor Light would be protected, making it the 12th Michigan lighthouse to have such status.
Images from web – Google Research