A Visit to the Round Island Lighthouse

One day a year – since 2007 – the public is invited to boat out to Round Island and explore Round Island Lighthouse.  Ted and I didn’t make it last year when high winds cancelled the afternoon tours, and this year I was traveling to the Pellston Airport with Blake, and Ted was working when the “visitation” was happening – so we missed it again.  

BUT – I happen to be friends with Jennifer Bloswick, who is the Human Resources Director for the Grand Hotel, and on Saturday night Jennifer posted some amazing pictures on Facebook she had taken that day while visiting the lighthouse.  I immediately asked if I could steal her pics and use them on a post about Round Island Light, and she very graciously said “Sure!”  

I ran into Jennifer today as I was trudging up and she was biking down Cadotte.  She pulled over to say hello, which gave me another opportunity to talk to her about her visit.  The more she talked, the more I understood why it is that for two years in a row “Someone” has been really looking after me by preventing me from going out there.  Here’s her story of the trip over and back:  

We left the harbor on private tour boats.  Once we got close to the island, we put on life jackets and went “overboard” into small, inflatable landing crafts. The dinghies carried us right onto shore – no problem.  We toured the island and the lighthouse for two-three hours, then it was time to go back.  We put our life jackets back on and waded out to the dinghies.  By now the wind had come up, and so had the waves – so by the time we climbed into the dinghies, we were pretty much soaked.  We fought the waves in that little boat back out to where the bigger boat was waiting.  The rendezvous between dinghy and big boat was quite “exciting”, and climbing from one to the other was not for the faint-hearted.  But, it was all so much FUN that I would not have missed it for the world!  The day was perfect!   

Jennifer’s photos will knock your socks off, but before I get to those, I want to give you a little history of the famous lighthouse that is so symbolic of Mackinac Island.  I have photographed that little white and red building at least a gazillion times.  There’s just something about it that begs a camera to turn, point, and shoot.  I compiled the following historical information from several websites on Round Island Lighthouse. 

Islands and reefs are abundant around the Straits of Mackinac, which makes ship traffic difficult.  In 1892 the Old Mackinac Point Light was built in Mackinac City, but the Lighthouse Board requested funds from Congress in 1892 for a second light in the Straits – to be located on a shoal off Round Island.  The lighthouse was constructed in 1895 and first lit May 15, 1896.  

The three-story all-red building became the summer home to the Head Keeper and two assistants.  The first floor held the boiler and compressors for the steam-operated foghorn.  The second floor contained the keeper’s kitchen, living room, dining room and one small bedroom.  The third floor held three bedrooms, and a service room, which also provided access to the tower and lantern room by way of an iron ladder.  In the winter, the keeper and his two assistants left the lighthouse and lived on Mackinac Island.  No ships could pass through the frozen waters, making a navigational light unnecessary during the winter months.

The lantern room was equipped with a Fourth Order Fresnel Lens, and the lamp showed steady white, with a flash of red every twenty seconds.    

In 1924 – the year the building was first painted red and white – the light was automated, and the keepers and their belongings were removed from the station.  In 1947, the automated Round Island Passage Light was erected off the harbor breakwater on Mackinac Island, and the Round Island Light was deemed to be no longer necessary as a navigational aid.  It was abandoned and left to the elements.  In 1958, Round Island became part of the Hiawatha National Forest, and as part of the transfer, the lighthouse became Park property also.  

Round Island Light, as it appeared following the 1972 storm.

In 1972, a violent storm blew away one whole corner of the building.  The hole in that corner opened the building to vandals, who continued the destruction of the inside.  The state of the building was a source of embarrassment, and a groundswell of public support to save the lighthouse began,  In 1973, loads of large rocks were spread around the base of the building to help stem erosion, and in 1974, the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Mackinac Island Society, Friends of Round Island, and private donations helped to begin the preservation of the lighthouse, and in 1977 the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation stepped in and appropriated the necessary funds for the restoration. 

Over the years, the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association has provided the knowledge for the restoration, and beginning in 1995, Boy Scout Troop 323 from Freeland, MI has provided the labor.  The scouts continue to return to the island each summer for clean-up activities and to do repair work.  They also host the annual Open House and guided tours.  In 2009, the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed as a non-profit organization to help aid the preservation and restoration offorts.  

Today, the exterior of the Round Island Light appears as beautiful as it must have during its active days.  It serves again as an active aid to navigation – its 300mm Acrylic lantern guiding mariners passing through the Straits.  Plans are ongoing for interior restoration and further exterior improvements.  The site and the 378-acre island is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Hiawatha National Forest.   


Round Island Lighthouse as it appears when approaching on a ferry.

Part of the cable mechanism that was used to rotate the light.

Original wood flooring.


The only remaining original door.


Walls that have been sandblasted clean of graffiti that littered the walls for years after vandals entered.



Looking down the stairwell.

The lantern room - active today.

A panaramic view of Mackinac Island from Round Island. That round "spot" over the island is a parasailer.

A view from Round Island of a freighter crossing under the Mackinac Bridge.

A view of the Mackinac Bridge from the base of the lighthouse.

From Round Island - watching a freighter cross the Straits - with the Grand Hotel in the background. The "small" pleasure boats in the foreground give an idea of just how big those freighters are.

Round Island Lighthouse - as it stands today.

A view of Round Island and Bois Blanc Island from the lighthouse lantern room.

 Thanks again to Jennifer for sharing these fantastic photos of her visit to the Round Island Light.  Hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did – and we didn’t even have to get wet!





6 thoughts on “A Visit to the Round Island Lighthouse

  1. As a former “wickie” (light house keeper) I still have a fondness for light houses.. back in the 60’s I was stationed on Lansing Shoal light- 40 miles west of Mackinac Bridge..On Lake Michigan.. wish I could have make it up to tour round island light..

  2. Dear Paul the former light house keeper of Lansing Shoal light,
    As a Michigander’s we love to visit Michigan’s lighthouse would love to visit Lansing Shoal light. Please let us know where we can find it. We will be in Mukesgon in 3 weeks.


    • Lansing Shoal Light is accessable only by boat ! It is an offshore light station about 40 miles due West of the Mackinac Bridge.. don’t think you can even get on the light all you can do is circle it by boat.. and it is a Long run and should only be done in good WX conditions..

  3. Are there any plans to restore the interior of the lighthouse? Thanks for sharing these pics. We live in FL now and I soooooo miss MI. These pics tugged at my heart brought a tear to my eyes.

    • Hi Janenne, There are plans to eventually restore the inside, but it will be a very slow process because of the expense.

  4. Thanks so much to you and your friend Jennifer for sharing these photos and the story of Round Island Light. I love lighthouses and blogging about them, but I’ve only managed to see this one from a very far the distance.

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