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Saving our lights: Restoring Presque Isle’s lighthouses

Courtesy Photo The cupola of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse is seen post-restoration.

For the greater part of the past two centuries, the Presque Isle Lighthouses have stoically weathered Northeast Michigan winters, but time and environmental conditions have taken their toll on the historic beacons.

The Old Lighthouse, built in 1840, served as a harbor light for 30 years before it was decommissioned when the New Lighthouse and Range Lights were lit in 1870.

Both the New Lighthouse and Range Light continue to serve mariners as navigational aids. The New and Old Lighthouses are owned and operated by Presque Isle Township and, as anyone who lives in this northern climate can imagine, they require significant resources to keep them standing proud.

In 2018, Presque Isle Township and the Presque Isle Township Museum Society (PITMS) partnered to form the Presque Isle Township Lighthouses Restoration Fund. The fund, administered by the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan (CFNEM), supports the Township’s efforts to restore the Old and New Lighthouses and related buildings.

Restoration work on the Old Lighthouse began in 2019. Beginning with the outside of the thick walls, workers removed broken and crumbling mortar for the first 16 to 18 inches, about halfway through the tower wall. New mortar was put in, stones were reset, and a fresh coat of paint was applied. A casual observer would have thought the restoration was complete, but it was far from done. In 2020, the workers moved to the inside of the lighthouse to continue the restoration work on the remaining inner 16 to 18 inches of the walls.

Courtesy Photo The cupola of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse is seen pre-restoration.

Meanwhile, work on other historic structures in the Lighthouse Parks has been undertaken by the township, including repairing the rotting rear entryway of the 1905 Keeper’s House, replacing cedar shake shingles on the roof of the 1870 Keeper’s house and breezeway, and painting the New Lighthouse cupola and tower.

Fundraising and restoration will be ongoing as issues revealed in a 2014 engineering study are addressed. According to Matt Bedard, township facilities and project manager, determining the cause and repairing the vertical stress cracks in the outer facade of the New Lighthouse tower is a major restoration project that is looming on the horizon.

The township and PITMS are participating in GivingTuesday on Dec. 1 through CFNEM’s #GivingTuesdayNEMI campaign at CFNEM.org to help reach next season’s goals for the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse-repairing the windows, painting the upper deck, and improving interior ventilation to help prevent further damage from excessive moisture.

Vicki Wright, president of PITMS, said, “We treasure our historic lighthouses — they symbolize our rich maritime history, and we need to join together as a community to preserve them for future generations.”

A generous grant from mBank provided matching funds to encourage local businesses to support the Presque Isle Lighthouse restoration efforts.

Courtesy Photo The roof of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse undergoes restoration.

To date, the following businesses have made generous contributions: mBank, Lakeshore Realty, Allegra Alpena, Jewell’s Disposal, Sand Bay Trading Co./Woody’s Grand Lake, Fairway Packing Co., Portage Store and Deli, and Grand Lake Resort

For more information, contact PILighthouses@gmail.com.

Courtesy Photo The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is seen post-restoration.

Courtesy Photo The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is seen pre-restoration.

Courtesy Photo A closeup of the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse pre-restoration.

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