Frankfort North Breakwater Light
Frankfort owes its history in part to the fate of the weather. In 1855, a schooner owned by George W. Tifft of Cleveland, Ohio was driven by gale force winds toward the shoreline. Through chance, the winds blew the boat into a harbor then known as Aux Becs Scies Lake, the French term for “Sawbill Duck,” which was a prevalent species in the area. Impressed with reports of the area’s resources and potential, Mr. Tifft purchased more than a thousand acres of land around the lake. In 1859, Mr. Tifft sold the land to a group of developers from Detroit, and the Frankfort settlement was born. The developers built a sawmill and dredged Betsie Lake to accommodate ships of all sizes. The federal government soon recognized Aux Becs Scies Lake’s strategic and economic importance, and funded further dredging and shoreline improvements. Frankfort became the best known harbor in the area, with newspapers reporting the arrival of as many as ten ships per day with settlers and visitors.
Recognition of Frankfort’s importance as a harbor led to establishment of a wood lighthouse in 1873. The Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse was built in 1912 to replace the deteriorating wood lighthouse. The original lighthouse would later be restored, and still stands today along the entrance to Main Street. The Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse sits at the end of Frankfort’s north pier, stands 67 feet above Lake Michigan, and has a range of twelve miles.
The lighthouse has a rich history. For its first fifty years of existence, it was one of the few lighthouses that did not provide quarters for its keepers, who had to rent local aprtments out of their own salary. In 1932, the fourteen room keepers’ quarters from the Chciago Pierhead Light was barged to Frankfort, saving the federal government the $15,000 it would have cost to build a new structure. The lighthouse has had numerous keepers who died on the job, the most notable of which was Sheridan King. In June, 1902, the twenty year old King had only been on the job for three months. He was in his own boat en route to the lighthouse, when a carferry from Ann Arbor approached. The ferry called for King to get out of the way. Before he could do so, the ferry crushed King’s boat “like an egg shell,” according to newspaper reports. Rather than stop, the ferry kept going. King lived for fifteen minutes in the water. It was widely believed that he could have lived had the ferry stopped to provide assistance.
In June, 2010, the Coast Guard placed the lighthouse for sale under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. In 2011, the city of Frankfort agreed to assume ownership. The lighthouse illuminates nightly after sunset, and is a popular place for tourists to stroll and take in the sunset.