South Pier Light: The light still serves as an active aid to navigation

Constructed with in the early 1870s with $6,000 in congressional appropriations, the South Pier Lighthouse was built as an open 30′ wood tower topped by an octagonal cast iron lantern. The lower deck of the tower was a storage room that contained supplies to maintain the light and was also used as a place of shelter when the light keepers worked on the light. The upper level housed the Fifth Order Fresnel lens for the lantern, made by Parisian glassmakers Barbier and Fenestre.

A rich maritime tradition – undated photo – Historical Association of South Haven

To provide safe passage to the structure during foul weather and provide a lifeline for the length of the pier, a 75′ long wooden walkway was constructed.

At the turn of the century, the Army Corps of Engineers invested heavily on improving South Haven’s harbor entrance. New 1,500+ foot long piers were constructed north and south of the Black River channel projected 470′ beyond the natural shoreline.

The South Pier and lighthouse has seen many changes over the years:

  • In 1901, the 30′ wood tower was moved some 250′ to the new pier head with an elevated walkway.
  • Two years later, after 30 years of harsh Lake Michigan weather, the old wood tower was replaced a new 35′ cylindrical metal tower.
  • In 1913 the piers were extended once more, and the tower was moved 425 feet to a new location at the end of the pier.
  • In 1916 a fifty-two foot tall steel range tower was built on the pier some 800 feet inward from the pier head light. Later the range tower was removed.
  • In 1923, the mineral oil-fired lamp was replaced with a 200 watt electric bulb and the hand-operated bellows-type fog horn was replaced by a 1600-pound electrified fog bell.
  • The Fog Bell was replaced by a drone-type fog horn with an audible range of 15 miles in 1937.
  • In 1940, today’s 1200-foot concrete pier was constructed and sometime after that The wood walkway was replaced with an iron system salvaged from a job site in Chicago and like many Great Lakes Lighthouses, the tower was received its distinctive red exterior.

Owned by the Historical Association of South Haven, the Lighthouse is more emblematic than necessary as a navigational aid. The Michigan Maritime Museum leases the keeper’s dwelling as a curatorial annex and plans to renovate the property, converting it into a maritime library and the area surrounding the pier is a public park with beach, a picnic area, playground and concessions stand.

The light house recently completed an extensive restoration due to years of corrosion and lack of maintenance. To contribute, visit the Historical Association’s website.