Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Michigan

One of the Upper Peninsula’s most charming features is its lighthouses. Once marking hidden shoals, points of land and entrances to harbors, many of these lights have been either automated or deactivated. Big Bay Point Lighthouse is one historic structure which was deactivated and then resurrected as a bed and breakfast. In late June 2011, my husband and I traveled to the community of Big Bay, Michigan, to seek out the lighthouse and take some photos.

A Sad History

The lighthouse at Big Bay Point cast its beacon across the Lake Superior waters for the first time in 1896. The United States Lighthouse Board recognized the need for a light which would mark Big Bay Point, a shipwreck site between Granite Island and Huron Islands. The lighthouse had seven head keepers and 38 assistant keepers in 49 years. The head keeper who served there for the longest period of time stayed for 14 years.

Reports of unusual, supposedly paranormal activity at the light station is partially attributed to the sad death of the first head keeper. Mr. William Prior spent the first four years of his duties at the light in search of an assistant keeper who would do the jobs required. Each of the first three assistants at the light failed at their tasks. Mr. Prior, in each case, reported them to the lighthouse inspectors as lazy, wanting to fish rather than to perform their duties.

Finally, in January 1900, Mr. Prior’s own son George was appointed as assistant keeper. In mid-April 1901, George was hospitalized in Marquette after falling on steps. Two months later, Prior’s son died and two weeks after that, the head keeper disappeared into the wooded land around the lighthouse. His suicide was confirmed seventeen months later by a visitor who found Prior’s remains hanging from a tree. At least one report by guests claim to have seen a man in a lighthouse keeper’s uniform walking in the yard. Other reports include banging cupboard doors, a sound of running water in a room with no guests and outdoor noises with no apparent cause.

After 1945 keepers were no longer required when the light, like so many on the Great Lakes, was automated.

In 1952, the United States Army National Guard was stationed at the lighthouse to conduct training exercises. One of the soldiers murdered another man at the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay. The case became the foundation for the book Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver and the movie of the same name directed by Otto Preminger.

A smaller beacon on a steel post replaced the lighthouse in 1961. After 1961, the lighthouse and property became a private summer residence for Dr. Jon Pick, a Chicago plastic surgeon. Until then, the lighthouse had neither indoor plumbing or electricity. He owned the buildings and 33 acres of the original 100 acres on which the lighthouse was constructed. Dr. Pick was most responsible for modernizing and repairing the abandoned station.

The property was to change hands once more in 1979 before being sold in 1984 to someone who made the lighthouse into a bed and breakfast. The current owners bought it as an already established bed and breakfast in 1992.

Physical Description

The lighthouse tower and keeper’s residence is located on a hundred foot high bluff, an ideal location for any navigational light. The squared 65 foot tower is attached to the residence so that the keeper would have easy access to the light. It is topped by decorative brickwork which is reminiscent of a castle parapet. The iron clad watch room and lantern cupola is octagonal in shape. The two story residence has a total of eighteen rooms, enough space for the head keeper and his family plus an assistant keeper and family to live.

Three other structures have survived from the days when the light required a keeper to tend it. An outdoor privy and a fog signal building are both made of brick. An iron building once stored the oil for the wicks which lit the beacon. The Third Order Fresnel lens which cast its light across Big Bay in years past is no longer in the fog signal building where it had been stored for many years. Big Bay Point lighthouse was one of only three lights on Lake Superior to have this type of lens. The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy states that a light, not the Fresnel lens, was returned to the tower in 1990 and is maintained by the Coast Guard. A dock for mooring boats which brought supplies to the lighthouse is visible in some of the aerial photos of the grounds.

The Future?

We drove the thirty miles from Marquette to Big Bay Point lighthouse and arrived late in the afternoon. A real estate sign at the gate of the grounds indicated the lighthouse and its buildings were for sale. The area around the lighthouse had been parceled off into lots. I later discovered that in 2006 to 2007, the current owners sought permission from the township board to allow condominiums to be built on parcels of the lighthouse land and to have the land rezoned. Permission was granted despite written and verbal protests by the residents of Big Bay Point and a petition designed to ask the township board to change its mind. Big Bay Point Lighthouse went on the market in May 2011.

An excellent aerial view of the lighthouse and grounds may be found>at My own photos are in my Michigan lighthouse slideshow. Sadly, this view may change should the current owners find developers to purchase the lighthouse and property around it. The plans seem to be to erect condominiums around the historic lighthouse, the very thing several sources indicate the current owners wanted to prevent when they purchased the bed and breakfast.


Photos and history of the lighthouse An excellent site with links to a partial transcript of Keeper Prior’s lighthouse log and a list of the keepers through the years Official bed and breakfast website More photos of the light and outbuildings Website gives information about the county board proceedings, the neighbors’ protests and the petition A panoramic view from the lantern house

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