Lighting the way for more than 100 years: The Christmas Lighthouse

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CHRISTMAS, Mich (WJMN) – Pushed back at the end of a gravel road off of M-28, stands a lighthouse with an important past. But in order to understand the key roles the lighthouse has played for centuries, you must come a little closer to the shore.

“This is the site of a furnace or a furnace campground it’s in Christmas, and you’re looking at one of the early blast furnaces,” Eric Drake the Heritage Program Manager for the Hiawatha National Forest said. “This was an iron smelting community and started up in the 1860s it was called a Onota. It was one of the earlier sort of iron smelting communities that grew up along the south shore of Lake Superior, mostly being fed the iron that was mined out of the higher range just to the west of Marquette.”

This furnace was the ideal spot to create iron blocks or commonly known as iron pigs. Location was everything, but ships needed a hand when maneuvering the Munising Bay waters.

“In 1868, there were those two wood structures, you had the keepers quarters and above that was a coupled rear light, then you had a front light out in front.,” Drake said. “And so when you line those two lights up one over top of the other you knew you were in the shipping channel, so you wouldn’t, there are all kinds of shallows and rock ledges and such, out here in Munising bay area so that would lead the ships in, so they could come in safely to the dock, and here at Onota, they had a large dock that went on hundreds of feet, that then the ore boats could come in and pick up the pig iron as well as deliver the raw.”

Blueprint for the the first wooden rear rearranged light structure. Courtesy of the Hiawatha National Forest

Although there is a rearranged light system still standing today, in 1914 the wooden structures were torn down and replaced. Then the structures got another makeover later in the 1980’s to give us what we see today.

“But then by the 80’s we [Public Service Management] developed the management plan, restored it was would be bad shape,” said Drake. “Most of that restoration involved taking care of some of the roster the exterior painting and so forth.”

Blueprint current rear rearranged light structure. Courtesy of the Hiawatha National Forest

In order to really get the full effect, Local 3’s Haley Schoengart climbed to the top to catch a rarely-seen view of Christmas.

The Christmas Lighthouse is truly a gem as it is one of the only remaining rearranged steel constructed lighthouses in the country.

For more information about the lighthouse click here.

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