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St. Joseph North Pier Lights

The St. Joseph River divides the present-day communities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph where it empties into southern Lake Michigan. As early as the 1830's, the location of the St. Joseph River made the area important to shipping. The ship crews needed the help of the St. Joseph Lighthouse citizens of the city. Legend has it that in the early 1800s the family of a Captain Pickering would hang lanterns in the second story windows of their Lake Michigan home on the expected arrival of his ship to help guide him into the harbor, thus making their home St. Joseph's first lighthouse.

The first Michigan lighthouse on Lake Michigan was build in St. Joseph in 1832 and stood St. Joseph North Pier Lights on a bluff on the mainland. The lighthouse was put into operation soon after its completion. Fourteen years later, a wood pier was build extending out into Lake Michigan, and a new lighthouse was built at end of the pier. In 1886 the lighthouse was furnished with a Fresnel lens. In 1905 a Fourth Order Fresnel lens was installed and in 1907 the pier was extended and a steel outer light was added which was lit by a Fifth Order Fresnel lens.

The original shore light continued operating until 1924. The building was then occupied by the American Red Cross, and served as the local headquarters until 1954, when the building was sold to the City of St. Joseph. Unfortunately, the building was torn down in 1955 to create additional parking.

Both pier lights, which are one of the few remaining pier range light systems on the Great Lakes, are still in operation. The outer light rests on a steel structure about 30 feet tall. The inner light is contained in a larger building. The two-story steel-sided structure has a red hip roof. An octagonal tower rises an additional two stories above the house and is topped by a black iron parapet and walkway. A catwalk extends over 300 yards from shore to the second story of the lighthouse. Catwalks were built so that lighthouse keepers could access the lights when the sea was rough and the waves were crashing over the pier making it too slippery to walk on. The walkway continues on to the outer light.

Directions: From I-94 north of Benton Harbor, take South Business Route 94 (exit 33) and drive about 5 miles to M-63 (called M-33 on older maps) in St. Joseph. Turn right (north) onto M-63, cross the St. Joseph River, and turn right (east) onto Upton Drive, the first road that intersects M-63 after you have crossed the bridge. Follow Upton Drive, which curves sharply west then north, 0.6 miles to Marina Drive. Turn left (south) onto Marina Drive (a brick road) and go 0.3 miles, around the west basin, to the entrance to Tiscornia Park, on the right. Follow the signs to the parking area. The pier and lighthouse are on the left.

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