Wawatam Lighthouse

Last updated
Wawatam Lighthouse [1]
Wawatan Lighthouse 2010.jpg
Wawatam Lighthouse in 2010
Location St. Ignace, Michigan
Coordinates 45°51′57″N84°42′55″W / 45.86583°N 84.71528°W / 45.86583; -84.71528 Coordinates: 45°51′57″N84°42′55″W / 45.86583°N 84.71528°W / 45.86583; -84.71528 [1]
Year first constructed1998
Year first lit2006
Tower shapeoctagonal
Markings / patternWhite, with red trim
Tower height52 feet (16 m)
Focal height62 feet (19 m) [2] [upper-alpha 1]
Current lens250 millimetres (9.8 in) Fresnel lens
Range13 miles (21 km)
Characteristic White flash 5 seconds
USCG number7-12608
Truck route for transporting lighthouse to St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) Wawatam Lighthouse route arrows.svg
Truck route for transporting lighthouse to St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula of Michigan)

Wawatam Lighthouse is an automated, modern lighthouse that guards the harbor of St. Ignace, Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac. It was originally erected near Monroe, Michigan as an iconic roadside attraction in 1998, and was first lit as an aid to navigation in St. Ignace in August 2006. [1] [4]

Lighthouse structure designed to emit light to aid navigation

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and to serve as a navigational aid for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways.

St. Ignace, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Saint Ignace, usually written as St. Ignace, is a city near the tip of the Upper Peninsula of the US state of Michigan, on the northern side of the Straits of Mackinac. It sits on the shore of Lake Huron at the north end of the Mackinac Bridge, opposite Mackinaw City, serving as the gateway to the UP for travelers coming from the Lower Peninsula. It is one of two ports with ferry service to Mackinac Island, and is the only mainland city accessible from the island when Lake Huron is frozen over. St. Ignace Township is located just to the north of the city, but is politically independent.

Straits of Mackinac strait connecting Lakes Huron and Michigan in Michigan, USA

The Straits of Mackinac are narrow waterways in the U.S. state of Michigan between Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsulas. The main strait flows under the Mackinac Bridge and connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The main strait is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) wide and has a maximum depth of 295 feet (90 m). Hydrologically, the two connected lakes can be considered one lake, which is called Lake Michigan–Huron. Historically, the native Odawa people called the region around the Straits Michilimackinac. The Straits of Mackinac is "whipsawed by currents unlike anywhere else in the Great Lakes".



The current lighthouse was originally built in 1998 as an architectural folly at the Monroe Welcome Center on Interstate 75 near Monroe, Michigan in the southeastern corner of the state near the Ohio border. It was a functional lighthouse structure that was constructed far away from navigational waters as an element of the tourist heritage of the state. [4] [5] [6] [upper-alpha 2] In 2004, the Michigan Department of Transportation decided to renovate the center and declared the structure obsolete. It was scheduled to be demolished. After concerns were raised about this decision, the state government agreed that the structure should be dismantled and moved to a location where it would be useful. Serendipitously, while attending a conference for municipal officials, St. Ignace civic leaders learned of its availability. [4]

Folly architectural structure characterized by a certain excess in terms of eccentricity, cost, or conspicuous inutility; often found in gardens or parks

In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose, or of such extravagant appearance that it transcends the range of garden ornaments usually associated with the class of buildings to which it belongs.

Welcome centers, also commonly known as visitors' centers, visitor information centers, or tourist information centers, as known in the United States, are buildings located at either entrances to states on major ports of entry, such as interstates or major highways, e.g. U.S. Routes or state highways, or in strategic cities within regions of a state, e.g. Southern California, Southwest Colorado, East Tennessee, or the South County region of Rhode Island. These welcome centers, which first opened on May 4, 1935 next to U.S. Route 12 in New Buffalo, Michigan, are locations that serve as a rest area for motorists, a source of information for tourists or new residents that enter a state or a region of a state, and a showcase for the state. These features make welcome centers, visitors centers, and service plazas, which are similar to welcome centers, distinct from rest areas. In Alaska and Hawaii, their unique geographical locations preclude them from having welcome centers as known in the rest of the U.S.

Interstate 75 (I-75) is a part of the Interstate Highway System that runs north–south from Miami, Florida, to Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula of the US state of Michigan. I-75 enters the state from Ohio in the south, north of Toledo and runs generally northward through Detroit, Pontiac and Bay City, crosses the Mackinac Bridge, and ends at the Canadian border in Sault Ste. Marie. The freeway runs for approximately 396 miles (637 km) on both of Michigan's major peninsulas. The landscapes traversed by I-75 include Southern Michigan farmland, northern forests, suburban bedroom communities, and the urban core of Detroit. The freeway also uses three of the state's monumental bridges to cross major bodies of water. There are four auxiliary Interstates in the state related to I-75, as well as nine current or former business routes, with either Business Loop I-75 or Business Spur I-75 designations.

They successfully applied to serve as the location of the small tower, and the lighthouse was disassembled into five pieces and trucked more than 330 miles (530 km) from Monroe to East Moran Bay in St. Ignace. [2] [3]

East Moran Bay

East Moran Bay is a small, historic harbor in the Straits of Mackinac adjacent to the city of St. Ignace in the U.S. state of Michigan. The harbor is used as a commercial port for Star Line Ferry and Shepler's Ferry ferry boats from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island, a tourist center of the Straits of Mackinac. The bay and its harbor are guarded by the Wawatam Lighthouse.

When it was at the Welcome Center, the hexagonal tower was painted white, with green and red trim. [3] [8] The original lighthouse was welded by a single man: Ed Morris, owner of the Morris Machine Shop in Bay City, Michigan, was chosen because of his skill as a welder. [4] The original plans called for a 36 foot (11 m) tall structure, but he went to the larger height of 52 foot (16 m) to "challenge himself". [upper-alpha 3] [9] The lighthouse was one of three that he built for Michigan Welcome Centers. The other two were at New Buffalo, Michigan and Clare, Michigan. Morris worked with eight men and it took about three months to complete the projects. [4] As Morris explained to the St. Ignace News, "His lighthouses were to be designed as museum-quality attractions at welcome centers ... to make an imposing first impression on visitors." They had a 12 foot (3.7 m) diameter base. Morris opined that anything in excess of 16 m was beyond his bailiwick. [4] He also suggested that its steel structure should make it highly resistant to storms. [4]

Hexagon shape with six sides

In geometry, a hexagon is a six-sided polygon or 6-gon. The total of the internal angles of any simple (non-self-intersecting) hexagon is 720°.

Bay City, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Bay City is a city in Bay County, Michigan, located near the base of the Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 34,932, and is the principal city of the Bay City Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Saginaw-Midland-Bay City Combined Statistical Area. The city, along with nearby Midland and Saginaw, form the Greater Tri-Cities region of Central Michigan, which has more recently been called the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Welder profession

A welder is a tradesperson who specializes in fusing materials together. The term welder refers to the operator, the machine is referred to as the welding power supply. The materials to be joined can be metals or varieties of plastic or polymer. Welders typically have to have good dexterity and attention to detail, as well as technical knowledge about the materials being joined and best practices in the field.

Transporting the structure by truck north from Monroe to St. Ignace cost $20,000. The move, repair and erection cost $50,000. Half was provided by the Michigan Waterways Commission. Small community donations paid the rest. [4] The lighthouse was reassembled using a crane in 2006. [5] Based upon a survey of residents, it was named Wawatam Lighthouse in honor of a railroad car ferry that had been home-ported in St. Ignace for many decades, SS Chief Wawatam . [10] [upper-alpha 4] After reassembly, the Wawatam Lighthouse was relit on August 20, 2006. The lighthouse is now an official United States Coast Guard privately maintained aid to navigation, USCG 7-12608, on Lake Huron. Maintenance is by the city of St. Ignace. [1] [2] [11] Public access is by walking the pier. [1]

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the agency of the state of Michigan charged with maintaining natural resources such as state parks, state forests, and recreation areas. It is governed by a director appointed by the Governor and accepted by the Natural Resources Commission. Currently the Director is Keith Creagh. The DNR has about 1,400 permanent employees, and over 1,600 seasonal employees.

Train ferry ferryboat carrying railroad cars onboard

A train ferry is a ship (ferry) designed to carry railway vehicles. Typically, one level of the ship is fitted with railway tracks, and the vessel has a door at the front and/or rear to give access to the wharves. In the United States, train ferries are sometimes referred to as "car ferries", as distinguished from "auto ferries" used to transport automobiles. The wharf has a ramp, and a linkspan or "apron", balanced by weights, that connects the railway proper to the ship, allowing for the water level to rise and fall with the tides.

SS <i>Chief Wawatam</i>

SS Chief Wawatam was a coal-fired train ferry and icebreaker that operated in the Straits of Mackinac between 1911–1984. Her home port was St. Ignace, Michigan, and she shuttled back and forth during her entire working life between that port and Mackinaw City, Michigan.

Wawatam Pier

The chosen location for the rebuilt lighthouse was the former St. Ignace railroad pier, originally built in the 1800s as the home port of a train ferry. Operated by a joint venture that included St. Ignace's Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway, the ferry shuttled railroad cars across the Straits of Mackinac. Starting soon after its launch date in 1911, these duties were fulfilled by the 338 foot (103 m) long Chief Wawatam. Designed by Frank E. Kirby and built by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company, the Chief "carried as many as 28 rail cars per trip between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace." [7] The ferry boat, in turn, had been named in honor of a leading Straits of Mackinac local resident of the 1700s, the Odawa clan leader Wawatam. [1] [2]

Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway

The Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway (DSS&A) was an American railroad serving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Lake Superior shoreline of Wisconsin. It provided service from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and St. Ignace, Michigan, westward through Marquette, Michigan to Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota. A branchline stretched northward from Nestoria, Michigan up to the Keweenaw Peninsula and terminating at Houghton, Michigan, with two branches extending further to Calumet, Michigan and Lake Linden, Michigan.

Frank E. Kirby was a naval architect in the Detroit, Michigan area in the early 20th century. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest naval architects in American history.

Odawa Indigenous people of North America

The Odawa, said to mean "traders", are an Indigenous American ethnic group who primarily inhabit land in the northern United States and southern Canada. They have long had territory that crosses the current border between the two countries, and they are federally recognized as Native American tribes in the United States and have numerous recognized First Nations bands in Canada. They are one of the Anishinaabeg, related to but distinct from the Ojibwe and Potawatomi peoples.

The St. Ignace dock collapsed in 1984, and in 1986 the successor railroad abandoned the last rail link to St. Ignace. This ended the ferry era. A truncated stretch of tracks and the track elevator (which oriented the tracks so the cars could be loaded on the ferry) are still visible. [7] On the dock, within a short distance from the light, is a 6 foot (1.8 m) tall wooden statue honoring Chief Wawatam. Erected in 2012 by the city, it was designed and carved by Tom Paquin and Sally Paquin, local artists. [7]

The light today

The new Lighthouse is duly noted on newer navigational charts. [11] [12] [13] The light operates year-round. [14] It not only guides mariners, but is a beacon for snowmobilers traveling across the frozen Straits of Mackinac to and from Mackinac Island in winter. [3] [7] The lighthouse and harbor also serve Coast Guard ice breakers, e.g., the tug Katmai Bay [upper-alpha 5] and heavy duty breaker Mackinaw . [upper-alpha 6] [17] [18]

The lighthouse was the featured lighthouse of the Michigan Lighthouse festival in 2015. [19] It is the subject of a jig saw puzzle. [20] As of 2017, this was the latest addition to Michigan's 150 listed (including historical and now demolished) lighthouses. Prior to that, the Tricentennial Lighthouse in Detroit's William G. Milliken State Park was opened in 2003. [21]


The Wawatam Lighthouse is located in downtown St. Ignace, at the eastern end of McCann Street near its intersection with North State Street, St. Ignace's main waterfront highway. [5]

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  1. The Coast Guard rates "it as 62 feet tall from the water to the focal plane (the beacon)." [3]
  2. "I thought it a little strange when the state erected the 52-foot-tall light tower at the Monroe Welcome Center ... on an expressway and well away from any lake. But, Michigan has many lighthouses along the Great Lakes and the state often uses iconic images of lighthouses in their advertising and chose the image as an appropriate welcome to visitors entering the state on its major north-south route." [7]
  3. The connection to St. Ignace held special significance to Morris. His father was employed on one of the Straits of Mackinac ferries that were operated by the State of Michigan. [4]
  4. "The Coast Guard required that the lighthouse be named before the application for the light could be processed. 'To keep the process moving, a poll quickly was taken with people at St. Ignace City Hall. Wawatam was the first choice and it provided a tie to the dock's history,' said Mr. Elmer." [3]
  5. Katmai Bay is stationed at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. [15]
  6. The Mackinaw is stationed at Cheboygan, Michigan. [16]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6
  2. 1 2 3 4 Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "Wawatam Lighthouse, St. Ignace, MI". August 31, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Booker, Ted (December 30, 2010). "Builder of Chief Wawatam Lighthouse Shares Story of Project's Origin". St. Ignace News . Archived from the original on 2017-04-27. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  5. 1 2 3 "Wawatam Lighthouse Saint Ignace, MI 49781". Pure Michigan . Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  6. farlane (June 26, 2014). "WAWATAM LIGHTHOUSE IN ST. IGNACE". WordPress.com . Retrieved April 26, 2017. While many of Michigan’s historic lighthouses have been decommissioned and are mostly ornamental, Pure Michigan tells the story of how the Wawatam Lighthouse started out as an ornamental lighthouse and now actually has a job!
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 King, Dominique (April 15, 2014). "From Monroe to Mackinac: Lighthouse moves to Chief Wawatam Park in St. Ignace,". Michigan Midwest Guest. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  8. Turnbull, Andrew (July 2001). "Picture of the Monroe County Michigan Welcome Center lighthouse" (photograph). Retrieved April 27, 2017 via flickr.com.
  9. Sonnenberg, Michael (August 8, 2016). "The Story of the Wawatam Lighthouse". Lost in Michigan. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  10. "Chief Wawatam Being Retired". The Escanaba Daily Press . Escanaba, Michigan. April 11, 1968. p. 6 via newspapers.com Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg .
  11. 1 2 "St. Ignace Wawatam Lighthouse". St. Ignace Municipal Marina. Archived from the original on April 27, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  12. Ann, Robin. "Wawatam Lighthouse in St. Ignace, Michigan" . Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  13. "Wawatam Lighthouse". Travel the Mitten. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  14. Vanek, David (March 29, 2016). To the Victory Forever. p. 112. ISBN   9781622176984.
  15. "USCGCGC Katmai Bay (WTGB 101)". United States Coast Guard. 26 January 2012.
  16. "USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30)". United States Coast Guard . Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  17. "U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie". U.S. Coast Guard Sector. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  18. Heffernan, Tim (February 25, 2016). "Ice Breakers: The Coast Guard Crews That Keep the Great Lakes Open for Business". Popular Mechanics . Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  19. "First Annual Traveling Lighthouse Festival". Michigan Lighthouse Guide. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  20. Absher, John. "Wawatam Lighthouse, St. Ignace" . Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  21. "Tri-centennial Light, Detroit Michigan" . Retrieved April 26, 2017.