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TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Every year, thousands of visitors make their way to the tip of the scenic Old Mission Peninsula to stare at the picturesque 1870 lighthouse that stands above the rocky shoals of Grand Traverse Bay. Until now, though, almost no one has ever been allowed inside.


Although the lighthouse is part of a public park, it’s been used as a private residence, closed to the public except on rare occasions. That’s about to change this summer, when the simple clapboard building will be open to visitors on a regular basis for the first time in its 138-year history.


“We won’t have the entire lighthouse ready just yet,” said Fred Stoye, head of the Peninsula Township park board, which has owned the lighthouse since 1948.

“But there will be several rooms furnished with historical displays, and people will be able to climb up into the tower for viewing the bay.”


The township has also decided to emulate the successful “volunteer lighthouse keeper program” established several years ago at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse just across the bay in Northport. For $800 a month, volunteers will be able to live and work in the lighthouse, doing light maintenance work, answering visitors’ questions and operating a soon-to-be-opened gift shop.

Over 18 miles long and in places barely a mile wide, the Old Mission Peninsula is one of Michigan’s most popular visitor destinations, thanks to its spectacular scenery, its picturesque farming settlements and its thriving wine industry. And it’s a rare visitor who doesn’t drive all the way to Old Mission Point, if only to stand beside the lighthouse and look out over the sweeping blue expanse of Lake Michigan and the distant Antrim and Leelanau coastlines.

But 19th century mariners weren’t nearly so appreciative. They worried more about the deadly shoals that stretch northwards for more than two miles beyond the beach. In 1859, responding to repeated calls from the shipping industry, Congress appropriated $6,000 for a lighthouse at Old Mission – but the Civil War intervened before the project could begin.

It wasn’t completed until 1870, and the resulting structure was relatively modest: a 1 ˝-story timber-frame house with a short wooden tower at one end, only 36 feet from the foundation to its top. Fortunately, it gained extra height from its position atop a 14-foot sandbank, making it visible from 13 miles at sea.

The first lighthouse keeper at Old Mission was Jerome M. Pratt, a local Indian agent and one of the area’s first settlers. He and his successors tended the kerosene lamp in the tower until 1933, when it was replaced with an automated electric beacon perched out in the water. After World War II the lighthouse was decommissioned and eventually became the property of Peninsula Township, which used it as the park superintendent’s residence and only opened it to the public on one day each year.

According to Stoye, the lighthouse will receive visitors all summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. After Labor Day, the facility will be open on weekends until the end of color tour season. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children.


Eventually, the township intends to build a separate keeper’s residence for the lighthouse so that the original structure and its outbuildings can be completely restored and furnished as a museum. In addition, there are plans for a sheltered pavilion that would be available for weddings and other events.


Nor is the lighthouse the only attraction at Lighthouse Park. Nearby is a furnished log cabin from one of the peninsula’s first settler families, and the 142-acre park includes miles of beaches and shoals as well as an extensive network of hiking, cycling and skiing trails through the forested interior.



A beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages, the Old Mission Peninsula is the perfect setting for a morning or afternoon drive. It’s easy to combine a visit to the lighthouse with a tasting tour of the Peninsula’s many wineries, a stroll on the beach or a hike through the woods, and an unforgettable meal at one of the area’s charming restaurants.

Two miles south of the park is the quaint village of Old Mission, tucked into a secluded harbor facing East Grand Traverse Bay. Founded in 1839 as a joint venture by leaders of the local Ottawa Indian tribe and a wiry Presbyterian minister named Peter Dougherty, it began as a kind of social experiment: a small colony of teachers, artisans and farmers – Indians and non-Indians alike – who lived and worked side by side in this idyllic spot.

Some of the mission’s original structures are still standing, including the broad frame mission house built by Dougherty and his Indian neighbors in 1842, and have the look and feel of museum pieces -- except that they’re still being used. There’s the historic Old Mission Inn, a New England-style Congregational church, the village schoolhouse (now a private residence) and the eclectic Old Mission General Store, built in the 1850s, where visitors can buy anything from ice cream cones to coonskin caps. Haserot Beach, the site of Dougherty’s 1839 landing, is a popular place for families with children because of its protected location and crystal-clear water.

For more information about the lighthouses of Traverse City, as well as other outdoor adventures and attractions, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-TRAVERSE or on line at


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