Whenever I find myself traveling north along the Lake Huron shoreline, I find it nearly impossible not to stop and admire the Tawas Point Lighthouse, especially if I’ve got time to climb up for the incredible view. The structure itself has become quite weathered by time. Fortunately, a recently completed restoration project is bringing back the shine on this historic landmark. Tawas Point Lighthouse will officially reopen to the public Wednesday, May 8, 2024.

There’s a deep history to both the area and the current building. The story begins back in 1850, at a quiet, and much less populated Tawas Bay. Imagine just a few log cabins and some hearty locals, including a tribe of Chippewa Indians led by Chief O-Ta-Was (hence the name).  Tawas Bay was a natural harbor of refuge and bordered on the east by a sandy peninsula called O-Ta-Was Point.  Map makers respelled it Ottawa Point, which caught on for quite some time.  Tawas Bay was situated at the north end of busy Saginaw Bay and, therefore, a bay of great value as a refuge from storms.  The federal government decided to establish a Light Station at the end of what was then known as Ottawa Point. It was completed in time for the 1853 shipping season.

Around that time, a man named Gideon Whittemore came to the area in search of timber. When he saw the vast acres of huge white pine trees, he decided to stay a while.  Whittemore established a settlement, a sawmill and a lumber business in 1854. It became Tawas City. Later, a competing sawmill was built closer to Lake Huron, creating East Tawas.  Some say these two communities are still rivals to this day.

If you’ve ever spent time in the area, you are likely aware of the propensity for northeast winds to kick up, churning a good deal of sand along with them. The more sand that blew, the longer the point grew. Eventually, the tip was nearly a mile from the lighthouse, making the beacon a lot less useful to mariners. Locals petitioned Congress for a replacement. Their cause was sadly aided when the schooner, Dolphin, ran aground in a heavy gale in November of 1874. Two years later, plans were underway for what is the current lighthouse, consisting of a 67-foot tower and a red brick dwelling for the keeper.

The recent restoration project has been over a year in the making. It became possible through $445,500 in federal Covid relief funds. Guided by the talented team at WTA Architects of Saginaw, the work was mainly focused on reversing the exterior deterioration of the tower. However, attention was also paid to the lantern room and gallery. Hamilton’s Mihm Enterprises was brought in to conduct the work. The Tawas Point Lighthouse was the company’s 23rd lighthouse restoration project. In fact, between these two organizations, there are an impressive 5 Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation and 5 Michigan Historic Preservation Network Building Awards.

The result of the collaboration is sure to delight new visitors and old friends alike. While the tower itself remains white, the lantern and gallery colors may look different to those repeat visitors. The colors, based on a paint color analysis, now reflect what was present at the lighthouse circa 1895.

“After many years we are so excited to see the tower of Tawas Point Lighthouse return to the gleaming white beacon it was meant to be,” said Laurie Perkins, a Michigan History Center site historian for Tawas Point Lighthouse. “The crowning glory of the restoration project is the lantern room where the 1891 fourth order Frensel Lens still resides. As work progressed on the tower, an exciting color palette dating to the turn of the 20th century reappeared, adding even more to the historical authenticity of the lighthouse.”

The lighthouse officially reopens to the public on May 8, 2024, and I highly recommend a visit. In fact, make the time to take the tour for some views you won’t soon forget. Tours are available every Wednesday through Monday between the hours of 12PM-5PM throughout the season until October 20. The cost is just $5.

While in the area, pop into Augie’s on the Bay for a great meal and lovely view. Don’t forget to save room for an ice cream at Marion’s. Then be sure to spend some time on the River Road National Scenic Byway, where you’ll find the famous Lumberjack Monument and some spectacular vistas featuring the Au Sable River.



Author: Lisa Diggs

Lisa Diggs is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, avid traveler, and founder of The Catalyst Company, LLC, Michigan Positivity Project, and Buy Michigan Now.