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Charity Island Lighthouse

Charity Island Light is a lighthouse on Big Charity Island in Lake Huron just off the coast of Caseville in northern Michigan. Big Charity Island is home to a very unique archaeological site. The islands are actually an outcropping of limestone that was formed 350 million years ago when most of North America, including all of Michigan, was covered by a warm shallow ocean. The limestone bedrock formation that outcrops along the Island’s northern shore has mineral deposits known as “chert ” embedded in it.

Chert is a form of flint that was a very important material for making stone tools by the people who lived in this area long before there were European explorers. Known as a quarrying site, Big Charity Island is heavily littered with the remains of the stone tool-making activity by generations of Native Americans from over 1500 years ago. Ultimately, the Native tribes were driven from Michigan to Oklahoma and Charity island was ceded to the British by the French. The territory became property of the United States in 1805.

The octagonal cast iron lantern within the Charity Island Lighthouse displayed a fixed white Fourth Order Fresnel Lens that was installed in 1857 in the 39-foot tower. It provided visibility of 13 nautical-miles. The U.S. Lighthouse Board was in the process of constructing lights up and down the coast, and 13 nautical miles was considered adequate both to keep boats off the island and to navigate from one light to the next.

The light's characteristics changed from steady white light to a flashing 10-second-per-interval light. "Charity Island lighthouse was the first on the Great Lakes to receive such a light. The light was fully automated in 1900.

The original lighthouse keeper’s quarters was a wood duplex; attached by a walkway was the tower. In 1907, the tower was extended to 45 feet and the dwelling gained a second story. In 1917 the site was the first to be automated with an acetylene lamp. The light was abandoned in 1939 when Gravelly Shoal Light was lit, and it rapidly fell into disrepair, and ended up on the lighthouse "Doomsday List.”

The Charity Island Preservation Committee of the Arenac County Historical Society is restoring the tower. The original keeper's house was razed, and a new restored private residence was built in its place and on its foundation. It is being operated as a restaurant and a bed and breakfast.

After acquiring the Island in 1992, Robert and Karen Wiltse made the decision to sell most of the island to the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service in 1997 to ensure its natural resources were protected from future development. With nearly 300 acres of forest, an 11-acre inland lake and three miles of shoreline, Charity Island is an important stopover for over 200 species of migratory birds. The service now operates it as a wildlife sanctuary.There are three miles of natural shoreline on the Island and a variety of migratory songbirds, such as Baltimore orioles and hummingbirds.

It is difficult to get close enough to this lighthouse to see it. In this area, Lake Huron is quite shallow and rocky, and the lighthouse is too far out to be seen from shore. Getting a boat near it requires oars, a long paddle or a motor, and considerable care. Tours of the island and dinner cruises are available commercially. The privately-owned Charity Island Lighthouse Keepers’ house is also available to rent.

Charity Island Lighthouse Keepers’ home is attached to the lighthouse, which was also built in 1857. The lightkeepers house is available to rent. It is a five bedroom home with 2.5 baths and sleeps eight adults. The house has four-bedrooms upstairs (each with trundle beds) with a full bath upstairs. The master bedroom is downstairs a queen size bed and has a 3/4 bath. There is a half-bath off the living room. The Lighthouse and keepers quarters are located on the very northern tip of Big Charity Island which is located ten miles off Caseville.


A 52 Weeks of Fun Fascinating Fact about Charity Island Lighthouse

The entire lighthouse site is powered by renewable energy using both a Solar Panel Array and a wind turbine. The Lighthouse Keepers’ home has been updated to be self-sufficient with wind and solar power generation and its own water purification system.

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