Muskegon Pier Light and Muskegon Breakwater Light
Muskegon stands out along the shoreline as the most industrial town on the Michigan side of the lake. While not as industrialized as cities like Gary, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay, Muskegon still maintains an urban indstrial edge, particularly in comparison to its idylic neighbors Grand Haven and Holland.
It is perhaps for this reason that many tourists skip past Muskegon on their way north. These tourists miss one of the most scenic harbors in the state, however. Nestled among the hills and dunes of Muskegon State Park miles northwest of Muskegon’s city-center, the harbor features two parralell piers at the mouth of the Muskegon River and and two breakwaters converging further into the lake. This “arrowhead” style of harbor is unique along the shoreline.
The Muskegon Pier Light sits on the south pier at the mouth of the river. It is a conical red steel structure. For those traveling northbound, this lighthouse will no doubt look familiar, as the South Haven South Pier Light and Grand Haven South Pier Inner Range Light were modeled after it. The Muskegon Breakwater Light sits on the tip of the south breakwater. It is a unique pyramidal structure, also painted red to mark the right entrance side.
Muskegon was recommended for development as a harbor in 1838. The river forms into Muskegon Lake before entering Lake Michigan through a channel. Lieutenant Colonel James Homans wrote to Stephon Pleasonton in 1838, “The channel in is wide and easy of access, and not less than twelve feet of water in it; making this harbor, in my estimation, the best on Lake Michigan.” Ten yers later, Congress appropriated $3,500 for construciton of a lighthouse on the site selected by Homans, and by 1851 a one and half story stone lighthouse was established. After this and other lighthouses failed, the Muskegon Pier Light was built in 1903. Its sturdy conical steel frame would endure, where previous stone and wood structures crumbled. In October 28, 1919, fierce winds and waves drove the paddle wheel steamer City of Muskegon into the south pier. The boat was torn to pieces. Twenty-two of the thirty-seven aboard died, despite being only feet from the pier. Were it not for the heroic efforts of Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Ranson Jakubovski, all might have perished. This tragedy was an impetus to construction of the breakwaters that now lie further into Lake Michigan. Once the breakwaters were installed, the piers were shortened and the Pier Light moved to its present location. The seventy-foot Breakwater Light was built as a fog signal at the end of the south breakwater in 1930. Technological advances made it possible to house the fog signal in a much taller and narrower structure. Instead of the bulky integrated square bases like those in Grand Haven and Holland, the Muskegon Breakwater Light was built atop a much narrower pyramidal structure. The structure was revolutionary also because it was powered from a generating station on shore, making it one of the first structures that could be operated remotely.
In 2008, the Coast Guard selected both lighthouses for sale under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. They were transferred to the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy on June 17, 2010.