A lighthouse was first built on the beach at Grand Haven in 1839, only to be destroyed by severe weather 13 years later.
A replacement light in the form of a schoolhouse light was built in 1855 on the bluffs that overlook the entrance to the harbor, which yields better than a 150-foot focal plane for the beacon. The light up on the hill was discontinued in 1905 when a light was established on the pier.
In 1922 the iron catwalk was built from the mainland to the light towers to allow the keepers safe access to the towers during severe weather. Prior to this, they would access the light via the concrete pier and risk the danger of harsh waves knocking them off the pier into the icy water. (See right) A grassroots organization in 1986 prevented the Coast Guard from taking down the catwalk by raising funds for its repair.
Grand Haven is christened "Coast Guard City U.S.A." because it hosts the Coast Guard Festival annually.
Majesty Score: 5
Upon seeing the Grand Haven Pier Lights for the first time you will be awestruck at the incredible sight! Grand Haven is the king of all pier lights!
The beauty of and majesty of this light is really helped by its aesthetic appearance. The lighthouses are fire-engine-red and spaced out on the pier, really letting them carry themselves larger than life.
In addition, the outer light has a front facade that is shaped like the bow of a ship. This aids the outer light in breaking through the pounding surf during the winter months and in severe storms. This facade really gives the lights an impression of strength.
The lights are situated on a concrete pier that juts more than 1,100 feet into Lake Michigan. When you walk out on this extended pier you will realize the unique majesty and greatness of these lights!
Water View Score: 4
The light has a great view of Lake Michigan and also treats you to a great view as you look back to land from the end of the pier, as you can see beach front to your right.
Preservation Score: 5
Grand Haven Pier is extremely well-preserved. In the summer of 2001, the lights and pier were closed for a renovation project that really shined up this diamond. I benefited from this touch-up, as I visited shortly thereafter. The pier's extremities are very well-maintained, featuring sky-blue painted railings. (See right) There are cracks in the concrete in the pier and on the outer light's facade, but that is a minor defect considering how many storms these lights have weathered.
Surrounding Area Score: 4
The western coast of the lower peninsula of Michigan perhaps has the best span of lighthouses in America when considering proximity and diversity of lighthouses you will see when touring.
All the lighthouses on the lighthouse tour between St. Joseph's pier and Big Sable Point lighthouse are roughly distanced about 20 miles apart. This was not by accident. The Fresnel lenses utilized on the Great Lakes were usually the fourth- through sixth-order lenses. These lenses had a visibility of about 10 miles, so by spacing the lighthouses 20 miles apart, ships could pick up the next lighthouse before they lost the signal of the lighthouse they had passed.
Within this 140-mile run you have the diversity of lighthouses including the Dutch architecture of Holland (Big Red), the Grand-daddy of all piers Grand Haven, the secluded, brick-faced White River and the Big and Little Sable Point lights, which are also must-sees.
Out of all the towns on this lighthouse run, Grand Haven was my favorite. It had some old sections of town that felt like New England and some really nice places along the water that had a laid-back California feel to them.
This consideration of the town does not even factor in that the Grand Haven South Pier Lights sits on the edge of Grand Haven State Park, which is 48 acres, and is a great stop for those with camping trailers.
Accessibility Score: 3
The accessibility score is slightly nonrepresentative of the Grand Haven Pier Lights experience. Although it scores a 3 because you can physically touch each of the lights and there is no access to the inside of the lights, this score doesn't really take into account the great experience of walking out onto the pier to do this. You will be more than 1,100 feet into Lake Michigan! Unfortunately, there is no ratings consideration for this feature... perhaps there should be?
Beacon Score: 3
The outer light features a 250 MM lens while the inner light features a 190 MM lens. They both utilize red lights, with the inner light flashing every 4 seconds and the outer light flashing every 10 seconds. You have to time your photographs very carefully!
The inner light was purposely built higher than the outer light at the end of the pier. The design of this would allow ships to line up the lights, one on top of the other, and by doing this would make sure they are approaching the harbor straight in.
Overall Score and Overview: 27
The Grand Haven Pier Lights are beautiful! They are a must-visit for all serious lighthouse buffs.
You will see why it is one of the most photogenic lighthouses in America when the yellow lights that line the complete span of the catwalk are lit at dusk and run the complete distance of the pier, finally ending at the red flashes lights of the towers. This site, reflecting in the water, is as pretty and as festive as any holiday display. It lends itself to great pictures and great enjoyment!
This lighthouse, when discarding the historic significance and accessibility scores, can stand with any light, and IT DOES!
Directions: Take US Route 31 and exit at the Franklin Avenue exit in Grand Haven. Franklin becomes South Harbor Drive and following this will take you to the pier.
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