52 Weeks of Fun

Not Just Destination Finders, But Destination Storytellers


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White Lake River Lighthouse


A number of sawmills were established in the White Lake area between 1836 and 1850. Lumber from these mills was rafted through the narrow natural channel between White Lake and Lake Michigan before being loaded on ships. This was a time-consuming process, and the local lumbermen lobbied for an improved waterway. In 1866, an improvement program was funded by Congress. After surveying the area, the construction of a new harbor and channel was proposed. Work on this project commenced in 1867. Piers extending out into Lake Michigan were gradually extended over the next five years.

Built in 1875 by Captain William Robinson, the White River Light Station now serves as a physical reminder of the rich nautical history of Michigan. The collection of artifacts entices one to discover and learn firsthand about the nautical and navigational devices including a binnacle, compasses, bilge pump, chronograph, sextant, and a ship's helm among many items. Listen to a foghorn, see the original Fresnel lens which reflected the source in the tower, and climb the spiral stairs for a glimpse of Lake Michigan´s unique sand dunes that stretch along the coastline to azure waters.

Forty later, shipping traffic through White Lake declined considerably, and the Army Corps of Engineers recommended the abandonment of the harbor. Maintenance continued, though, with annual dredging. In 1936, the Corps replaced the superstructures of both piers with concrete. In 1946, the Life Saving Station adjoining the Lighthouse was sold and subsequently moved, and in 1970 the lighthouse was sold and converted into a local museum.

This historic lighthouse is now home to a maritime museum and open to the public. Visitors can climb the old spiral stairs to the light for a view of Lake Michigan and White Lake. Plan a visit to the museum and browse the many 19th and early 20th century photographs and examine its collection of nautical artifacts.

Photographs, paintings, artifacts, and stories can instill a sense of the White River’s maritime history, which is rich in folklore. The bustling enterprises of the age; shipping, logging, the Lighthouse Service, the fishing industry, and the resort center activities are depicted in numerous exhibits. They chronicle local activities while placing them in the larger perspective of regional Great Lakes maritime history.

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A 52 Weeks of Fun Fascinating Fact about White Lake River Lighthouse

Passengers from Chicago traveled by steamships through the White Lake River channel to enjoy summer activities on White Lake.

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