Facts + History

In making their way between the Manitou Passage and the Straits of Mackinac, vessel masters made a turn off the northern tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Also serving as a marker for vessels turning into Grand Traverse Bay, the point thus served as an important navigational marker, and 1849 saw the first recommendation to erect a light on Cat’s Head Point in 1849.

Congress responded with an appropriation of $4,000 for building the new lighthouse on September 28, 1850. Construction began in the spring of 1852, and was completed late that year. Built on low ground close to the water’s edge, the station structures were likely typical of Great Lakes lighthouses during the period, consisting of a squat rubble stone tower outfitted with an array of Lewis lamps, and a simple detached keepers dwelling. David Moon was appointed as the station’s first keeper, and with his name appearing on district payroll records for the first time on September 7, it is likely that he exhibited the new light for the first time soon thereafter.

However, it would appear that Moon was ill-suited for the rigors of lighthouse keeping, as he resigned from lighthouse service before his second season at the light, to be replaced by the indomitable Philo Beers on April 15, 1853. Beer’s previous service as a US Deputy appears to have come in handy, as the lighthouse was reportedly raided on a number of occasions by Mormon Pirates. Followers of James Jesse Strang, the self-proclaimed King of Beaver Island, these pirates were reputed to consider themselves above common law, and as such felt free to avail themselves of anything they needed by raiding from area “Gentiles,” as non-believers were known. On one occasion, it is reported that Beers managed to drive off a group of Mormons who attempted to remove the station’s Fresnel lens for installation on Beaver Island.

As was frequently the case with Lighthouses erected under the fiscally tight-fisted Pleasonton administration, it appears that a combination of poor construction and an ill-advised location quickly took their toll on the structure, as after only five years of service the foundation of the tower was found the be eroding. With concern that structure was close to collapse, funds were requested for complete replacement of the buildings with a more substantial structure.

The new lighthouse, c.1890

The old tower and dwelling were demolished in 1858, and work on a new structure began on higher ground on the point. Over that summer a dirt-floored cellar with rubble stone walls was excavated and a two-story ‘Cream City Brick’ keepers dwelling took shape. A short square wooden tower with white painted clapboard siding was integrally mounted at the center of the roof ridge, and both floors contained four rooms, with a centrally located entryway with stairs connecting the two floors. A narrower second set of stairs on the second floor led through the attic into the tower. The building featured first-class construction, with hardwood floors throughout and varnished wooden trim and wainscoting. Atop the tower, a cast iron lantern with copper sheathed roof contained a new fixed white Fifth Order Fresnel lens illuminated with a sperm oil fueled lamp. With its ventilator ball standing 48 feet above the structure’s foundation, the building’s location on high ground provided a focal plane of 103 feet, and a range of visibility of 12 miles in clear weather.

Excerpt taken from the lighthouse website of Terry Pepper. Visit his amazing website here.