A ‘Little’ Lighthouse with a Big History
The Little Sable Lighthouse in Silver Lake is one of the best places to escape to around town. It boasts beautiful views of the coastline as well as being one of the top places to watch a signature Lake Michigan sunset. The beach at Little Sable is a prime location for a beach day with soft sand and refreshing water.
But where did this landmark begin, and what stories does it have to tell?
This ‘little’ lighthouse was constructed in 1874, and is 107 feet tall, which makes it one of the tallest lighthouses in the mitten. Originally, the lighthouse was called Petite Pointe Au Sable. Funding of $35,000 was passed by Congress for the lighthouse on June 10th, 1972. A month later, President Ulysses S. Grant set aside 40 acres for the tower. The structure had three rooms and a third order Fresnel lens, which is very rare. It was manufactured by Sautter & Co in Paris, France and remains in the tower today. The bottom and center section of the lens don’t move, but the top section revolved in a 5-minute rotation and produced a flash every 30 seconds. The beam this light cast could be seen 19 miles into Lake Michigan.
Little Sable has seen 15 keepers over the years. When one light keeper took a month leave, a woman took over the job for a time. Every eleven hours, a light keeper would need to wind a 90-pound weight, which was suspended in between the inner and outer walls of the lighthouse, to power the revolving portion of the lens.
The Black Hawk was the first of many shipwrecks recorded by Petite Pointe Au Sable light keepers. The ship ran aground, but the crew was reportedly all saved as the first light keeper, John Carley, noted. Throughout the 1880s, the lighthouse saw many shipwrecks due to Michigan being the primary source of lumber for Chicago and other Great Lakes ports.
This structure has withstood against many storms- one of the most notable is the one that took place on Armistice Day in 1940. Thirty-foot waves beat the Lake Michigan shorelines while ninety-two mile per hour wind gusts hammered the lighthouse. Three ships went down during the storm.
In 1958, the light keepers’ dwelling was taken down since it was no longer needed. 16 years later, the lighthouse was sandblasted so it would no longer require any sort of regular painting. In 2005, the Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association took over and have run it since.
Little Sable is open for climbing- if you’re up for the 130 stairs that is. The view at the top, though, is very worth it. The hours for the lighthouse run from 10 am- 5 pm (closed on Monday), and it costs $8 for adults to climb and $5 for children. Keep in mind that climbing does depend on the weather, so make sure to check the radar before you head out the door. The Little Sable Point Lighthouse closes for the season on September 18th.
This light has a rich history with many tales of the sea and sand to share. Learn more about the lighthouse by visiting it during your trip to Silver Lake. Take a moment to get a bird’s eye view of the Lake Michigan shoreline and an up-close glimpse of the Fresnel lens.
Photo: Sarah Goodwin (@sg.captures)
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