White River Light
In the popular summer destination of Whitehall, Michigan sits one of Michigan’s Norman Gothic style lighthouses, the White River Light. It sits on a thin strip of land along a channel separating Lake Michigan from White Lake. The lighthouse marks the entrance to the White River system, which stretches approximately seventy miles inland.
The parralell piers marking the entrance to White Lake and the White River were completed in 1871, and a small wood lighthouse was built on the pier in 1872. Like many other lighthouses built in the mid-1800s, it proved inadequate to support the rapidly expanding lumber industry. After only two years of the original light’s operation, Congress appropriated $15,000 for construciton of a lighthouse at the mouth of the channel. It was determined that the new lighthouse would be a gothic style, modeled after one built years before on Chambers Island, Wisconsin. The lighthouse was completed in 1876, It’s design is unique not just because of its gothic style, gabled roof, and pale yellow brick, but also because the base of the tower transitions from square to octagonal. It is also one of the few lighthouses which faces an inland channel, rather than the lake itself. As the sturdy brick structure proved well suited to handle increased lumber industry traffic, the original lighthouse on the pier slowly deteriorated. On numerous occasions, sparks from steamers ignited the wood structure. In 1930, it was torn down.
The White River Light’s original keeper, William Robinson, became nearly as famous as the lighthouse itself. Mr.Robinson assumed his post in 1871 and remained on the job until 1919, when he was ordered to retire. Then eighty years old and knowing no other way of life, Mr. Robinson fell into a depression as his scheduled retirement approached. On the day he was to cede control of the lighthouse to his assistant keeper, Mr. Robinson died in his sleep. Local newpapers reported, “Hundreds of people whom he had aided in time of trouble came to grieve with the family, for Captain William was more than an honored resident of the Whote Lake community. He was an institution.” The lighthouse continued in operaiton under various keepers until 1960, when it was decommissioned. By 1970, residents of nearby Fruitland Township acquired the lighthouse and opened it as a museum.
In 2012, it was leased to the Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association, which continues to operate the museum and a gift shop at the lighthouse. White River Light is the first of four lighthouses operated by this organization, which has become one of the most successful conservancies in the state.