South Pierhead Inner Light and South Pierhead Light
At the mouth of the Grand River sits the busy beach town of Grand Haven. In the summer, the town’s population doubles as area residents and thousands of tourists from around the state and country flock to the beach.
Bearing witness to it all are Grand Haven’s tandem south pier lighthouses. The conical South Pierhead Inner Light rises 51 feet over the lake. The integrated square South Pierhead Light rises 34 feet. Both are painted fire engine red, consistent wiht their position on the right entrance pier. Along with Saint Joseph, these are the only tandem lighthouses in the state to maintain their original catwalk for the length of the pier.
The lighthouses sit at a critical location along the shoreline. At 256 miles, the Grand River is the longest river in Michigan, running through the heart of Grand Rapids. Sitting along the longest river in Michigan in the heart of lumber country, Grand Rapids was uniquely poised in the mid-1800s to become the furniture capital of the world. Lumber could be cut anywhere along the river, floated to Grand Rapids, crafted into desks, tables, and chairs, and shipped to the world from Grand Haven. Recongnizing the Grand River’s potential as a shipping hub, a lighthouse was established in Grand Haven in 1839, making it the second lighthouse along Lake Michigan in the state of Michigan. The original lighthouse was built perilously close to the shore, however, and quickly proved inadequate. A new lighthouse, modeled after the one under construction at Point Betsie, was built on a bluff fifty feet above the lake in 1858. Grand Haven became the terminus of the Detroit and Milwaukee railroad in the 1850s. The railroad took it upon itself to build breakwalls to protect its ferries.
The present day lighthouses were built upon the south breakwall and first lit in 1905. The South Pierhead Inner Light used the lens from the existing lighthouse on the bluff, which was soon abandoned. The South Pierhead Light served as a fog signal. The United States Coast Guard opened a field office in Grand Haven in the early 1900s. The Grand Haven Sector Field Office still operates today, overseeing Coast Guard operations from Saint Joseph to Leelanau. Grand Haven earned the nickname “Coast Guard City USA” and hosts the annual Coast Guard Festival every August.
Despite ther city’s close connection to the Coast Guard, the lighthouses were deisgnated for closure in 2009. The Grand Haven Lighthouse Conservancy was formed to eventually assume ownershiop. In January, 2013, the Coast Guard formally transferred ownership to the City of Grand Haven, which will maintain them until they are transferred to the conservancy.