We had a wonderful trip to several locations in Michigan during our week in May of 2021. I really enjoyed going to a game at Comerica Park in Detroit and seeing the Mackinaw Bridge in Mackinaw City. While in the Mackinaw City area we were able to see about of lighthouses. The first one was Whitefish Point and the one I am sharing today, McGulpin Point Light. Both were very cool but sadly McGulpin was closed. We still had a great time walking around, taking pictures, and learning a little about the lighthouse as well as the area.
The light began operation in 1869 as a navigational aid through the Straits of Mackinac. It was only in operation until 1906. This 640-acre property was originally owned by John McAlpin (which was later changed to McGulpin due to the anglicizing of European names) but deeded to his son Patrick McAlpin upon his death. It has changed hands many times since then, and in the early 1850s, it was seen as a crucial lighthouse site. Congress appropriated the funds for the lighthouse, construction began in 1868 and again was in use from 1869 to 1906. It was then purchased by Emmet County in 2008 and reopened as a public park property in 2009. Today it is still one of the oldest surviving lighthouses in the Straits, thus tens of thousands of visitors find their way to the site each year.
Another note of history – About 390 years ago, pilgrims momentously set foot on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., and Plymouth Rock was christened an enduring symbol of American settlement. But 395 years ago, French explorers were plying the Straits of Mackinac and using a rock at least five times the size of Plymouth’s to gauge water levels as they navigated in canoes along the tumultuous waters.
While walking around we saw many plaques and such sharing stories or information. One of these talked about James and Madeline Davenport who raised a lighthouse family, spending 28 years at McGulpin Point. James worked on schooners until he married Madeline in April of 1870. They moved to Mackinaw City and he acquired a job as 1st assistant keeper at Waugoshance Shoal Lighthouse at a salary of $400 per year. Here was an example of the description for the prestigious job of Lighthouse Keeper: Must be able to read and write and be fastidious and self-starter, follow rules, work night and day seven days a week, skilled in maintaining equipment and structures, able to enjoy isolated living, and obey superior. No vacations allowed. Wow.
Offshore lighthouses only accommodated men so Madeline and their young family remained in Mackinaw City. After three years he was promoted to the keeper at Little Sable Light, a mainland light that accommodated the entire family. In 1879 James swapped jobs with the keeper at McGulpin Point light to be closer to their extended family. They bought a $100 lot in Mackinaw City across the street from the school, an ideal location for a large family of school children. During the winter months, James worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker building many of the older homes in town including his own, constructed from wood taken from shipwrecks in the Straits.
There were a lot of plaques and information about the McGulpin family along what they call the Discovery Trail. It is not a long trail but it is very informative. It tells stories from the earliest inhabitant who made it their home, to the Europeans who later arrived and settled the area. Of course, it also talks about the building of the lighthouse which of course helped the sailing captains navigate the waters between Michigans Lower and Upper Peninsulas.
However, the best part was that the trail, through boards and exhibits, using these cultural “docents” leads you down to the waterfront of the Straits with an AMAZING view of the Mackinaw Bridge and Lake Michigan. It was truly beautiful and worth the short walk.
Here at the edge of the water, via displays, you will meet a traditional Native family from 9,000 years ago. Because there is no photography available to capture what these early inhabitants would have looked like, Good Hart artist Jane Cardinal sketched the man and his two sons, gutting a huge sturgeon that hangs from a tree branch at 9 feet in length. This would’ve been a typical scene on this shore thousands of years ago. Thought it was pretty cool and took several pictures of it.
One more thing to note before I finish this post was that I wanted to share that you can actually stay right next to the lighthouse overnight. It is a one-bedroom with a queen bed, a living area with a pull-out couch, a kitchen and dining area, an onsite laundry with linens provided, an attached private bath, a yard, and a designated parking spot. A two-night minimum stay is required year-round. Peak Season (May 1 – Oct 31) $300/night Off Season (Nov 1 – Apr 30) $175/night Security Deposit $100. Rates are subject to change. Might have been nice if we had known about it before our trip. It is the second picture on the top of this post.
We spent a couple of hours reading the boards, taking the trail, and admiring the bridge and lake. I am so glad we decided to look around even though the lighthouse was closed. It was wonderful and peaceful as we were the only ones around when we visited. I am sure it’s not like that all the time, lol. Here is a link to their website if you want more information or planning your own visit. Happy travels.
McGulpin Point Light Visitor Information
500 Headlands Road Mackinaw City, MI 49701
Lighthouse and Gift Shop: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from mid-May through September. In October, the lighthouse and gift shop are only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 23, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The lighthouse and gift shop will close for the cold season on Oct. 24, 2021. The park grounds around the lighthouse and down to the Straits of Mackinac, including a shoreline view of Mackinac Bridge, are always open to the public.
Admission is $3/person. Children under 5 years of age are free.
McGulpin Point Historic Site & Lighthouse is located adjacent to The Headlands recreational park, both located just west of Mackinaw City.
From Mackinaw City, travel west on Central Avenue for about 2 miles, and turn north on Headlands Road.
From southern Emmet County, travel north on any of several main roads including M119, Pleasantview Road, US 31, or I-75.
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