South Haven South Pier Light
Twenty miles north of Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor is the popular beach town of South Haven. From US-31, the Phoenix Street exit west takes one past numerous turn-of-the-century Victorian homes before the road turns into Water Street and passes through one of the most vibrant downtowns along the Lake Michigan shoreline. On the other side of downtown sits South Haven’s beach and pier at the mouth of the Black River, teeming with tourists during summer months.
At the end of the pier sits the South Haven South Pier Light guiding boats into the Black River. What the lighthouse lacks in size, it makes up for in charm. At only 37’ the lighthouse is one of the shortest along the Lake Michigan shoreline, espcially among conical style lighthouses. The original catwalk and arched lamposts still stand, providing a dramatic visual gateway toward the bright red lighthouse. It is one of only four lighthouses in Michigan to retain its original catwalk.
It is also one of many red lighthouses along the shore. In the 1950s, the Coast Guard required all lighthouses on the right entry side of a pier to be painted brihgt red. Although this requirement no longer exists, many communities kept the lighthouses red to maintain their distinct character.
In the mid-1800s the Black River was one of the principal corridors for the transport of lumber to port. Logs were floated down the river, processed in South Haven, and shipped to the world. The steady increase in shipping traffic during the mid-1800s made a lighthouse critical to the port’s continued viability. The original lighthouse was built on shore in 1872. The present lighthouse tower was built on the pier in 1903. The lighthouse is a shorter replica of the Muskegon South Pier Light. Both are conical in style and painted bright red. The lantern room was brought from the Muskegon South Pier Light after it had been in service there for forty years. The keeper’s quarters were located on shore. The quarters still stand today as an annex of the Michigan Maritime Museum, which plans to renovate the property and convert it to a maritime library. In 2010, the United States Coast Guard determined that the South Haven South Pier Light was no longer useful as an aid in navigation.
Like the Saint Joseph lighthouses to the south, the South Haven South Pier Light was put up for sale under the Naiional Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The Historical Association of South Haven placed a bid with the full support of the city, and assumed ownership on August 9, 2012. Like many of the lighthouses sold by the Coast Guard, the South Haven South Pier Light has deteriorated in recent years. The Historical Association of South Haven estimates that it needs $350,000 in renovation. The group has been spearheading a fundraising drive since acquiring the lighthouse. Most of the necessary repairs are structural. Cosmetically, the lighthouse is one of the most attractive along the shore.