Robert Manning Memorial Light
Empire, Michigan sits in the middle of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with no port, harbor, or river along its shore. It is known not for its boat traffic, but for its position in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This makes Empire an unlikely sight for a lighthouse.
Empire’s lighthouse was not conceived as an aid in navigation, however, but as a memorial. Born in 1927 and a longtime resident of Empire, Robert Manning was an avid fisherman and a well liked pillar of the community. He took his boat on to Lake Michigan daily and often returned after sunset. He would often comment that it would be nice to have a lighthouse on shore to guide him home. In 1989, Mr. Manning died at the age of 62. His family and friends conceived of building a lighthouse in his honor. Donations poured in, and the lighthouse was completed the following year. It bears a small plaque at its base honoring Mr. Manning. The lighthouse itself is cylindrical with a wood structure, white stucco exterior, and green lantern room and railing. It sits atop a modest concrete foundation only about twenty feet from the beginning of Empire’s beach. Manning Memorial is the second newest lighthouse in Michigan, falling behind only the Tri-Centennial Light of Detroit. It is one of only three memorial lighthouses in the state.
Do not be fooled by the “memorial” moniker, however. The lighthouse is fully functional and is recognized by the Coast Gaurd as an aid in navigation. Despite its youth, the Manning Memorial Light has become very well known. Its simple structure, clean lines, and unique stucco exterior seem to fit perfectly on Empire’s quiet beach. It matches the architectural styles of nearby shoreline houses. It also helps that the lighthouse sits in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, recently named the Most Beautiful Place in America by Good Morning America. Just a few hundred feet south lies the trailhead to Empire Bluff, one of the signature landmarks in Sleeping Bear Dunes. To the north lies Sleeping Bear Bluff, over which the famed Stocking Scenic Drive winds. As a further testament to Manning Memorial’s charm and popularity, the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club built a twenty-foot replica of the Manning Memorial Light on Lake Havasu in the Arizona desert. It is one of only twenty of the world’s lighthouses replicated on Lake Havasu. It speaks volumes about Manning Memorial that its replica now sits alongside the London Bridge, and nineteen of the world’s best known lighthouses