Lighthouses, in general, are engineering marvels that are entirely worth the attention they receive. Whether it's a trip through the Hudson Valley to see historic riverside lighthouses or a more unusual spooky trip around the U.S. to the country's most haunted lighthouses, they fascinate everyone in a number of ways.
Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, in particular, is one of the great engineering tales to come from the Great Lakes. Lake Huron is where this structure resides, and it's one that has had a unique history in regard to its construction. In fact, it's not constructed on a solid piece of land at all - but rather on top of what was once a treacherous reef.
The History Behind The Spectacle Reef Lighthouse
Not only is the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse one of the most impressive lighthouses in the collection of lakes surrounding it, but it's also one of the oldest. When its construction began in 1870, it was determined that the reef on which it was to sit was the most dangerous underwater threat to any ships that happened to be passing through. This knotty underground reef structure was known to cause havoc to ships navigating Lake Huron and eventually gained such a reputation that it was recognized by the U.S. Lighthouse Board.
With the reef sitting, submerged only ten miles east of Bois Blanc Island, it posed a threat to any mariner who tried to navigate its hard-to-locate edges. Its proximity to the Straits of Lake Mackinac also posed a threat, as there were commercial and leisurely boaters that passed through the water weekly. To this day, the area still holds the reputation of once being the most 'treacherous stretch' of the Straits of Mackinac.
The Construction Of The Lighthouse
Building such a massive lighthouse was no small feat and also came with a price tag that was practically unheard of in the late 19th century. According to How Stuff Works, the lighthouse began construction with a whopping $400,000 cost. At the time, it was set to become one of the most impressive feats that had ever been seen in the lighthouse-engineering world at the time. Not only was the area itself dangerous to mariners but the construction process posed its own threats to builders. With an exposed reef, it was a challenge to work around such a natural barrier, further complicating what was already set to become a long process. However, the price that mariners would not have to pay - as there had already been shipwrecks on the reef at that time - far outweighed the actual cost to build the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse.
- Fact: The last ship to run aground on the reef was the Nightingale schooner ship, which was shredded to pieces due to the sharp edges of the reef.
In order to build the lighthouse, a square fencing system - known as a crib - was needed in order to close off the reef from the surrounding water. It took a total of 140 men according to Lighthouse Friends in addition to 1,550 tons of stone in order to anchor the crib in place. This would form a deck that measured 86'x86', on which hand-cut limestone blocks would be stacked in order to create the walls of the lighthouse. Icy conditions and the overall harsh nature of the weather on the Great Lakes made construction conditions perilous at times, and tragedy was no stranger to the shores of Lake Huron and Spectacle Reef.
In total, the lighthouse would reach a height of 86 feet, with a total of seven floors within. It took four years to complete the lighthouse, not including the paperwork that took place in the year prior to the start of construction. By the time it was finished, it would become one of the most expensive, largest, and complex lighthouse structures that any of the Great Lakes would ever see. To this day, it remains an engineering feat that some might say was well beyond its time in the 19th century.
- Fact: The light that was installed in the lighthouse was a second-order Fresnal lens, which had a visual span of 28 miles. It has since been replaced with a modern LED lens and was fully automated in 1972.
Visiting The Lighthouse Today
Today, the lighthouse is best seen from the water of Lake Huron. As of right now, the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse is undergoing restoration efforts by the Spectacle Reef Preservation Society, and it's their goal to have the lighthouse open as a partial museum by 2024. This will be the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the lighthouse, during which the Preservation Society wishes to welcome those who want to learn more about the history of such a life-saving structure.