Copper Harbor range light to get face lift

By GRAHAM JAEHNIG

gjaehnig@mininggazette.com

COPPER HARBOR – The Copper Harbor Lighthouse, on Keweenaw County’s Hay’s Point, has undergone extensive archaeological and restoration works since the 1950s.

Recently, the same attention has been paid to the mainland range lights, located within the Fort Wilkins State Park grounds. While the lighthouse guided ships to Copper Harbor, the range lights functioned to guide them safely through the reefs and into the harbor.

The archaeological and restorative work follows a study contracted by the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, in cooperation with the Michigan History Center and with the assistance of an archaeological survey conducted by Michigan Technological University at Houghton, according to the DNR website.

The lighthouse beacon on Hay’s Point, erected in 1848, cast its beam a few miles out over Lake Superior, but it was ineffective in protecting ships from the reef as they tried to navigate the harbor’s narrow entrance.

After a number of ships were wrecked around the entrance, a pair of range lights was installed in 1860 that when lined up, guided mariners into the harbor.

The original lights were mounted on poles and were replaced in 1865. Three years later, a range keeper’s quarters was built at the site, and the rear light was placed in a lantern room built atop the quarters.

A historic structures report contracted by the DNR in 2014 included recommendations for buildings and grounds restoration and interpretation of the range lights historic site. The report also recommended an archaeological survey.

The range lights and the outside of the keeper’s quarters are in the process of being renovated.

“We’ve got three sides pretty much done,” said Wayne Burnett, the park’s supervisor. “Future plans call for restoring the interior of the building and providing better access around the site,”

Burnett said most park visitors do not realize the range lighthouse reservation is part of the park.

Barry James, administrator of the Michigan Iron Industry Museum at Negaunee and a Fort Wilkins historian, said the long-term goal for the range light property is to provide better access for park visitors. The site around the building will be interpreted based upon historical, archaeological and documentary research, James said.