Tours of the lighthouse are offered three times per day—11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m.—from May 15 through mid-October and in the winter by appointment (906-884-6165). There are also “haunted lighthouse tours” on Halloween. Those wishing to take the tour must stop at the Ontonagon County Historical Museum (located at 422 River Street) where the tour begins. This tour is the best way to see the lighthouse without going on private property. There is a minimal charge.
The land for the Ontonagon lighthouse was initially acquired in 1847 by the U.S. Department of Commerce Lighthouse Service. The money for construction was appropriated in 1850 and the structure built in 1852-1853 by F.W. Chittenden, a contractor from Detroit.
In 1866, the original structure was replaced with the existing building, a simple 1-1/2-story rectangular cream brick building with a square light tower at the west end. The extremely high basement was built far above the ground to protect the living areas from flooding.
The facade facing the lake on the north is three bays wide and has three double-hung six-over-six sash windows on the main floor with cut stone lintels and sills. The single basement window has three panes of glass. On the south facade, the two windows are similar to those on the north side on the main floor; the two basement windows are larger than on the north side. The east facade has two nine-over-nine windows on the upper floor and also has cut stone lintels and sills.
The gable roof has a hipped dormer on each side, the south for a tiny room and the north for a bath. An internal stone chimney rises through the east end of the roof and has simple ornamentation bands of horizontal brick.
The light tower is three stories high, or 39 feet from the ground to the focal plane, and is surmounted by an iron polygonal beacon which housed the light. Around the beacon is a square, light iron gallery consisting of a platform and rail, which were added to aid in cleaning of the windows.
Later modifications and additions to the lighthouse itself include the following:
1. In 1888, a 12 x 20 foot frame woodshed, a 338-gallon brick cistern, and a wagon road leading to the public road were added.
2. In 1889, an iron gallery was placed around the light to make it easier to keep the windows clean.
3. In 1890, an 18-foot-square one-story brick kitchen of similar construction was added to the east side of the building.
4. In 1901, “low and swampy places” in the road leading to the lighthouse were filled, and materials for an oil-house were delivered.
5. Some time after 1901, a 360-gallon oil house was built, and the bridge leading to the lighthouse was rebuilt.
In April 1963, use of the lighthouse was discontinued after an automatic foghorn and battery-powered light were installed at the end of the eastern pier. The lighthouse was officially closed in January 1964, after which it was leased to the last keeper, Arnold Huuki and his wife, as a residence. The light was removed from the structure and is now housed at the Ontonagon County Historical Society Museum.
In October 1975, the Ontonagon lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. After a 10-year effort, the ownership of the historic Ontonagon harbor lighthouse was transferred from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Ontonagon County Historical Society in 2003.
Lugenbeal’s (1975) archeological test excavations around the lighthouse documented that historic materials related to the facility’s use are present throughout the grounds. No prehistoric archeological sites were located during the fieldwork. There are numerous references to prehistoric sites at the mouth of the Ontonagon River and to an early historic Chippewa village on the west bank. Lugenbeal (1975) tested the area surrounding the lighthouse and found no evidence of a prehistoric occupation.
If any remnants of the historic Chippewa village still exist, they would probably be present only around the lighthouse grounds since the surrounding areas have been so heavily disturbed.
Information taken from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Report of Investigations, NCSPD-ER-16 February 1986, by Blaylock and Stevenson,
and Scott’s NWW Coast Pilot for the Lakes, 1904.
Lighthouses of the same general design:
Grand Island North
Ontonagon County Historical Society
P.O. Box 92
422 River Street
Ontonagon, MI 49953-0092