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White River Lighthouse

In 1870 a channel was cut from Lake Michigan to White Lake. Mariners had a difficult time finding the White River Harbor so as part of the channel project a beacon was built at the White River Beason Light end of the short south pier to guard the channel. The beacon tower was a square white pyramid wooden structure which stood 27 feet high. The iron lantern room was outfitted with a fifth order Fresnel lens. The fixed red light was visible for approximately eleven and a half miles at sea. Captain William Robinson became the first keeper of the beacon light in 1872.

In 1875, an elevated wooden catwalk was built to the pierhead light, and Keeper Robinson was instructed to start the construction of a new White River Lighthouse shore-based station. The White River Light Station was built at the north side of the channel mouth with the Lake Michigan shore on the west. Keeper Robinson assisted with all phases of construction including the masonry work. Also in 1875, a lifesaving station was built across the channel from the light.

In 1876, the south pier was extended by a hundred feet and the beacon was lifted and moved to the new pier end. The wooden catwalk was extended to the new beacon location. In 1901, part of the wooden catwalk on the pier was replaced with an iron assembly. In 1910, the entire catwalk was replaced with cast iron. Then in 1925 the entire catwalk was removed.

In 1902, the Pierhead Light Fresnel was removed, and replaced with a smaller sixth order lens, reducing its visibility to nine miles. In 1930, the pier was resurfaced in concrete and the wooden tower was replaced by a steel structure bring to an end of the old Pierhead Light.

The foundation and superstructure of the shore-based lighthouse are constructed of limestone. The lighthouse was built of Michigan light-colored bricks. The lighthouse is 1 1/2 White River Lighthouse stories high with an attached tower that is 38 feet in height. The tower contained a fourth-ordered Fresnel lens which is on display. You can also climb the iron clad stairs to the lantern room of the tower. In 1960, the lighthouse was decommissioned and the Fresnel lens was removed, crated and shipped to the Detroit Coast Guard Depot. Fruitland Township purchased the lighthouse in 1966, and converted the building into the Great Lake Marine Museum in 1970. In 1972 the Coast Guard returned the Fresnel lens to the museum, where it was reinstalled in the lantern room. The lens remained in the tower until 1975 when the irreplaceable lens was chipped by someone with a rifle who shot through the lantern room windows. The Fresnel lens was removed to the first floor to prevent this from happening again.

Other structures on the site include an oil house built in 1875, a garage, and workshop/storage building.

Captain William Robinson remained the lighthouse keeper for 47 years. At age 87, shortly after his wife died, he decided to retire. The day before retiring he past away in his sleep. It is said you can sometimes hear him walk the stairs of the tower.

Directions: From US-31 east of Whitehall, Michigan, exit onto White Lake Drive and follow it west 4.4 miles to South Shore Road. Turn left (south) onto South Shore Road and go 3.7 miles (at 1.6 miles the route make a brief jog west on Lakewood Street) to a four-way stop. Look for a lighthouse museum sign straight across the intersection. Continue straight ahead and follow the road (Murray Road) one mile. As you approach the end of the road, look for a driveway, marked by a lighthouse sign, on the left. Follow that narrow road about one block to the lighthouse and gift shop parking area.

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