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Wawatam Lighthouse

Wawatam Lighthouse

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Wawatam Lighthouse[1]
Wawatam Lighthouse in 2010
Location St. Ignace, Michigan
Coordinates 45°51′57″N 84°42′55″W / 45.86583°N 84.71528°W / 45.86583; -84.71528Coordinates: 45°51′57″N 84°42′55″W / 45.86583°N 84.71528°W / 45.86583; -84.71528[1]
Year first constructed 1998
Year first lit 2006
Tower shape octagonal
Markings / pattern White, with red trim
Height 52 feet (16 m)
Focal height 62 feet (19 m)[2][A]
Current lens 250 millimetres (9.8 in) Fresnel lens
Range 13 miles (21 km)
Characteristic White flash 5 seconds
USCG number 7-12608
Truck route for transporting lighthouse when it went north from the Monroe "Welcome Center" in Lower Michigan to the city of 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]


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][B] 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] 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.[1][2][3][4][7][8][9][excessive citations]

When it was at the Welcome Center, the hexagonal tower was painted white, with green and red trim.[3][10] 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".[C][11] 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]

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.[12][D] 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][13] Public access is by walking the pier.[1]

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]

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.[13][14][15][16] The light operates year round.[17] 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[E] and heavy duty breaker Mackinaw.[F][7][20][21][22][23][24][excessive citations]

The lighthouse was the featured lighthouse of the Michigan Lighthouse festival in 2015.[25] It is the subject of a jig saw puzzle.[26] 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.[27]


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]



  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.[18]
  6. ^ The Mackinaw is stationed at Cheboygan, Michigan.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Wawatam Lighthouse History". St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. 2017. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Wawatam Lighthouse, St. Ignace, MI". August 31, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Booker, Ted (December 30, 2010). "Builder of Chief Wawatam Lighthouse Shares Story of Project's Origin". St. Ignace News. Retrieved April 26, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c "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. ^ a b c d e f g 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. ^ "Wawatam Lighthouse". Michigan Lighthouse Guide. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  9. ^ Roach, Jerry; Roach, Barb (2007). The Ultimate Guide to Upper Michigan Lighthouses. Durand, Michigan: Bugs Pub. p. 113. ISBN 9780974797724. 
  10. ^ Turnbull, Andrew (July 2001). "Picture of the Monroe County Michigan Welcome Center lighthouse" (photograph). Retrieved April 27, 2017 – via flickr.com. 
  11. ^ Sonnenberg, Michael (August 8, 2016). "The Story of the Wawatam Lighthouse". Lost in Michigan. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Chief Wawatam Being Retired". The Escanaba Daily Press. Escanaba, Michigan. April 11, 1968. p. 6 – via newspapers.com . 
  13. ^ a b "St. Ignace Wawatam Lighthouse". St. Ignace Municipal Marina. Archived from the original on April 27, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2017. 
  14. ^ Ann, Robin. "Wawatam Lighthouse in St. Ignace, Michigan". Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  15. ^ "Wawatam Lighthouse". Travel the Mitten. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Wawatam Lighthouse". TripAdvisor. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  17. ^ Vanek, David (March 29, 2016). To the Victory Forever. p. 112. ISBN 9781622176984. 
  18. ^ "USCGCGC Katmai Bay (WTGB 101)". United States Coast Guard. 26 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30)". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  20. ^ "U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie". U.S. Coast Guard Sector. Retrieved April 30, 2017. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Ellison, Garret (January 8, 2015). "The freeze is on: Coast Guard begins ice-breaking on western Great Lakes". Mlive. Retrieved April 30, 2017. 
  23. ^ Final survey, Great Lakes-St.Lawrence Seaway Navigation Extension: Environmental Impact Statement. 5. Detroit, Michigan: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. August 1979. p. 95. Retrieved April 30, 2017. 
  24. ^ "USCG Cutter Mackinaw Icebreaker Moored in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan" (Video). March 20, 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2017 – via YouTube. 
  25. ^ "First Annual Traveling Lighthouse Festival". Michigan Lighthouse Guide. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  26. ^ Absher, John. "Wawatam Lighthouse, St. Ignace". Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  27. ^ "Tri-centennial Light, Detroit Michigan". Retrieved April 26, 2017. 

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