Point Betsie Lighthouse has reopened after being closed for renovations this winter. Today, the group that has done the work on Point Betsie Lighthouse will receive an award from the State of Michigan.
The Hard Work Of The 1940s
The keepers' quarters inside the lighthouse have been fully restored. The inside now looks the way it did the mid-1940s, almost a century after it was built.
That period was the height of activity at Point Betsie, when three families lived in it, as many as fifteen people, says John Hawley, president of The Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse. He's written a history of the place.
There was no electricity in the lighthouse in the 1940s, and Hawley says it was around the clock work to keep the light burning and keep the boiler fired in the fog horn building.
"The keeper might be in charge of the light and serving it during the evening, throughout the night - every two, two-and-a-half hours fueling the light.
"If you also had to have a fog signal, you were likely to be doing that during the daytime. So, you had to have more than one person. And pretty soon, stoking the boilers for a fog signal could take, easily, the work of a couple of people," Hawley says.
A Busy Passage
Point Betsie Lighthouse was built in 1858. Later a lifesaving station was established nearby. Hawley says around the turn of the century, this stretch of Lake Michigan saw as many as 100 ships pass by each day, coming in and out of the Manitou Passage.
"It was of course, relatively speaking, the safe way to move north and south along the east coast of Lake Michigan. But it also had a great many perils, and as we know there are the remains of many, many shipwrecks in, and close to, the Manitou passage. Hence, these lights and these rescue facilities," he says.
Over the decades various additions and renovations gutted most of the original woodwork inside Point Betsie lighthouse. One staircase that dates to around 1895 was left intact and has been restored. Hawley says they had to scrape a dozen coats of paint off it and reroute plumbing that had been sent down a corner of the stairwell.
In the keeper's quarters, two original fireplaces have been restored. The one in the dining room had been covered up behind a wall panel. A few rooms, including the dining room and a kitchen, have been furnished to match the time period.
There are also some exhibits on display, including the actual Fresnel lens dating back to the 1800s. Fresnel lenses magnify the light so it can be seen farther out on the lake. The state historic preservation office says less than 10 lighthouses in Michigan have their original lenses.
Still A Busy Passage
The Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse have been working on the lighthouse and other buildings on the property since 2004. They've raised more than a million dollars. Eventually Jon Hawley hopes to see Point Betsie become a full fledged museum and maritime history center.
"We know this is Benzie County's treasure. This is the most historic building in the county, and the county knows that. It draws the attention of an absolutely steady stream, thousands of visitors every year, and we think it will play a very important part in the whole future of Benzie County," he says.
Hawley and the other friends of Point Betsie will be recognized this afternoon for the work they have done so far. The state Historic Preservation office will present a governor's award today at 2:00.