Copper Harbor Lighthouse on the Keweenaw Peninsula
Winters on Michigan's Upper Peninsula are notoriously severe. But the weather did not deter the rapid development of mining when deposits of copper were found during the 1840s and then iron later in the century. The richest veins of copper were located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which thrusts out to the northeast toward the center of Lake Superior. Ship traffic in and out of Copper Harbor and nearby Eagle Harbor expanded rapidly to carry the copper bounty to markets in the east. As a result government officials soon saw the need for lighthouses at both locations. There was plenty of mining activity in the area prior to the construction of the first light and the Keweenaw Peninsula reefs claimed a great number of ships.
In 1843, the Federal Government established a Mineral Land Agency office at Copper Harbor. Douglass Houghton blasted on a vein of copper at the lakeshore near the light house, and the first commercial copper mine in the Keweenaw Peninsula later worked that deposit. You can still see the mine shaft, now fenced off, on the walking tour.
Copper Harbor Rear Range Light.
Congress appropriated $3,500 in 1860 for a pair of range lights at Copper Harbor, but the actual construction was not carried out until 1865. In 1869, the Lighthouse Board built a keeper's dwelling with a tower on it to exhibit the rear range light. The original Copper Harbor Range light building is now being used as a residence by the assistant manager of Ft. Wilkins State Park. You're welcome to take photographs of the area, but please respect the privacy of the residents.
A small, square room that rests on the flattened peak at one end of the roof once housed the original rear range light. The lantern flame shone through a small, arched window at the front of the room. The present-day rear range light is on a steel-skeleton tower about 100 feet in front of the house. Facing the harbor at the top of the structure is a white steel panel with a vertical red line through its center, which creates a bright visual focus for boats offshore.
The top of the tower also supports a small beam, which is directed at the lake beyond. The old front range light was replaced more than 60 years ago by a new light, located near the water's edge. The new structure is a miniature version of the new rear range, with a similar red-striped white panel topped by the beacon. A square, red steel foundation about five feet tall supports the panel and light.
Copper Harbor Lighthouse
Congress appropriated $5,000 for a light at Copper Harbor on March 3, 1847. The stone light tower went into service in the spring of 1849, The station received a Fresnel lens in 1856. Remarkably, the 1849 detached keeper's house is still standing nearby. The Lighthouse Board replaced the 1849 structure with an entirely new building in 1866-67. The light was discontinued from October, 1883 through June, 1888, but the property was kept up by the keeper of the Copper Harbor Range Lights. In 1919, the light was converted from kerosene to acetylene gas and left unattended. In 1927, the Lighthouse Service moved the gas light to a sixty foot steel tower nearby. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources acquired the property in 1963 and today it houses a nautical museum on both the first and second floors. You cannot, however, climb past the second floor into the tower. The maritime museum is part of Fort Wilkins State Park.
Paths lead through the surrounding grounds to an abandoned copper mine shaft, past anchors, propellers, and other maritime artifacts recovered from area shipwrecks.
Copper Harbor was also the site of the wreck of the JOHN JACOB ASTOR-the first reported commercial vessel on Lake Superior. She was a merchant and fishing schooner of 112 tons, launched in 1835. Her parts were cut and formed at Lorain, OH, and shipped to Superior for assembly.
The little JOHN JACOB ASTOR was nearing Copper Harbor with a load of furs and trade goods when she struck a reef and foundered on September 21, 1844. None of her crew was lost in the accident. Her anchor was recovered in 1970.
The Keweenaw Peninsula was the site of a great many shipwrecks, some of them are major SCUBA diving sites.
Directions: From the junction of of US41 and M-26, on the west side of Copper Harbor, go east approximately one mile to Fanny Hooe Creek. Cross over the creek and turn left into a parking area next to the creek. Although you are on state park land, there is no charge to visit the range lights. If you have a large motor home or trailer, continue down the main road to Fort Wilkins and park in the lot near the fort entrance. It's just a short walk back to Fanny Hooe Creek. You can view the Front and Rear Range lights back across the creek. Although the lights are on state park property, it is a private residence. You are welcome to take pictures in this area, but please respect it as private property.
You can also walk to the Lake Superior shore in this area and view the Copper Harbor Light out on the peninsula to the northeast. Boats to the Copper Harbor Light, chartered by the state park, depart from the Municipal Marina, located on the north side of M-26 just west of the turnoff to Brockway Mountain Dr., on the west side of Copper Harbor. For advance information on rates and the schedule, write Copper Harbor Lighthouse, East US-41, Copper Harbor, Ml 49918 (906/289-4966 or 906/289 4215). Open daily, the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend through the 1st weekend in October.
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