Manistee North Pierhead Light
In the mid to late 1800s Manistee was the heart of Northern Michigan’s lumber industry. The forests around the Manistee River provided a seemingly endless supply of trees, and the river provided a convenient means to float the lumber to Manistee for processing and shipment to the world. At one point, Manistee boasted more millionaires per capita than any city in the United States, and had streets lined with stately Victorian mansions. Manistee has long been nicknamed the “Victorian Port City” owing to its nautical heritage.
The thriving lumber economy led to construction of a lighthouse on Manistee’s south pier in 1870. On October 8, 1871, the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, a fire destroyed the city of Manistee and its lighthouse. By 1875, new lighthouses were built on each of Manistee’s parralell piers. Like many of the lighthouses of the era, they deteriorated quickly and had to be rebuilt many times. In 1927, a sturdier cast iron tower was built at the end of the north pier. It still stands today, worn down by years of waves and weather, and badly in need of renovation.
Although the lighthouse no longer sees lumber traffic, the port remains one of the busiest in Northern Michigan. The Manistee River houses hundreds of recreational and charter boats, and is one of the best sport fisheries in North America. In early fall, hundreds of boats pass by the lighthouse in pursuit of salmon congregating in Lake Michigan for their annual spawning run up the river.
The lighthouse is thirty-nine feet tall with a focal plane of fifty-five feet. Some classify it as a cylindrical light, although there is a slight conical taper from base to lantern. The lighthouse was painted bright white, but has faded through the years as rust spots have emerged. The pier features an original catwalk, one of only four remaining in existence in Michigan. An active Coast Guard station sits at the mouth of the Manistee River.
The Coast Guard maintained the lighthouse until it was put up for sale in 2009 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The lighthouse was sold to the City of Manistee in 2011. The Manistee County Historical Museum is responsible for maintenance and renovation. The group is currently raising money to fund removal of hazardous materials, structural and cosmetic repairs to the interior, and repainting of the exterior. Upon completion, the lighthouse will operate as a museum open to the public.