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For 120 years, the lighthouse has withstood the harsh climate of the Straits of Mackinac. However, this wasn't without a fight.
1895-1924, It's Golden Years: Round Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1895 at a cost of $15,000 by Frank Rounds, a carpenter from Detroit. Rounds had previously worked on Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel, which was completed in 1887. The lighthouse was first lit on May 15th, 1896. It was commissioned under the U.S. Lighthouse Board, which became the United States Lighthouse Service in 1910. When it was first completed, the lighthouse was brick red. This would remain so until it was painted red and white in 1924. The fog signal at the lighthouse was installed in the fall of 1896. William Marshall was the first keeper of the lighthouse and served until 1906.
1924-1947, The Decline of the Lighthouse: The beacon was automated in 1924 and became the responsibility of the United States Coast Guard in 1939, when the Coast Guard took over all of the nation's lighthouses. To support World War II efforts, most of the original machinery on the first floor was removed for scrap. The structure was whitewashed in 1939.
1947-1972, A Lighthouse in Danger: When an automated light was constructed off the shore of Mackinac Island in 1947, the Coast Guard abandoned and decommissioned Round Island Lighthouse. A few years later, becoming tired of maintenance on the unused structure, the Coast Guard recommended that the lighthouse be demolished. Luckily the lighthouse was transferred to Hiawatha National Forest in 1958 and saved from its fate of destruction. For more information on the Hiawatha National Forest, visit the United States Forest Service website.
Since the lighthouse was abandoned, the lighthouse was a target for vandals. Also, without upkeep, the outside was feeling the effects of the Great Lakes and was starting to deteriorate away. On October 20th, 1972, a fierce storm knocked down part of the southwestern corner of the lighthouse. If it wasn't for local preservationists, the lighthouse would have met its end.
1972-1995, Help for the Lighthouse: In 1973 loads of large rocks were spread around the base of the lighthouse to prevent further erosion of the lighthouse. With the aid of groups such as Friends of Round Island, private donations, and government funds, the walls and foundation were restored, from 1974 to 1976. On August 21st, 1974, the lighthouse was entered into the National Register of Historical Places and on July 3rd, 1978, the lighthouse had its formal dedication into the National Register of Historical Places. In 1980 the lighthouse was featured in the movie Somewhere In Time and in 1985 the outside of the lighthouse was refurbished again with a new roof, windows, and paint. It was repainted red and white, as it was back in 1924. In 1986 high waters forced the foundation of the privy to tilt.
1995-Present, Restoration Continues: Boy Scout Troop 323 of Freeland, Michigan joined the efforts to help preserve and restore the lighthouse in 1995. In 1996, Round Island Lighthouse celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Public tours were conducted for the first time; as well as the lighthouse being reactivated. From 1996 to 1999, Troop 323 worked on fixing the privy's foundation. When they came up to finish their job and to lower it onto its new foundation, they found that it had been struck by lightning the previous night. They were able to lower the building; but, now they'd have to construct a new roof. The scouts constructed a new roof in 2003 and in 2004, the privy was shingled and the oil house reshingled. The lighthouse was repainted again in the fall of 2005 and Troop 323 repainted the oil and privy in the summer of 2007.
Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed in 2009 as a non-profit organization to further aid the preservation and restoration efforts at historic Round Island Lighthouse. On August 21st, 2010, the society signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Forest Service. We are currently working with the United States Forest Service on a Management Plan.
Starting in 2007, an annual Open House has been conducted to inform and educate the public of the history and restoration efforts of the lighthouse. The 9th Annual Open House will take place on July 11th, 2015. Click here for more information.