The South Manitou Island Lighthouse is the most familiar landmark on the island and is clearly visible from the mainland. The 100 foot lighthouse tower, active from 1871 to 1958, marked the location of the only natural harbor between here and Chicago. Ships took refuge here during storms and steamers stopped at the island to refuel with wood for their boilers. The keeper's quarters (building on the right) is connected by a covered passage.
The lighthouse is less than 0.5 miles from the dock. Walk through the village and past the visitor center to the boardwalk that will take you over the dunes to the lighthouse. Be sure to get a tour when you are on the island and climb to the top for a spectacular view.
With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1826, the development of commercial navigation on the Great Lakes increased rapidly. The Manitou Passage was the most important route for schooners and steamers traveling the 300 mile length of Lake Michigan. South Manitou Island provided a wood fueling stop for steamers. The island had the only deep natural harbor between the Manitou Passage and Chicago, 220 miles to the south, providing a safe and well protected haven from storms.
In 1858, the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment recognized the need for greater safety and replaced this house with a two-story brick residence with a 35 foot tower on top. The tower housed a Fourth Order Fresnel lens. A fog signal building was added and both structures still stand today.
During the operation of the lighthouse, 17 Keepers and 32 Assistant Keepers maintained the light. Aaron Sheridan was one of the Lighthouse Keepers and the first one to be in charge of the current lighthouse. Learn about Aaron, his family, and his tragic death while he was the Keeper. For more information on the lighthouse, browse Terry Pepper's website. The U.S. Coast Guard abandoned the light station in 1958.
Visit Michigan Lighthouses for a listing of all lighthouses in Michigan.
Last updated: September 3, 2019