Round Island Lighthouse

Round Island Lighthouse

The Round Island Lighthouse celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1995. Although it has been out of service for many decades, it is a familiar sight to visitors to Mackinac Island, Michigan.


This lighthouse was placed into service on May 15, 1896. It marked the channel between Round Island and Mackinac Island, the shortest distance from northern Lake Huron to the Straits of Mackinac. It was equipped with a fourth order Fresnel (pronounced freh-nell) lens and a fog horn. Three keepers were stationed at the lighthouse, but their families lived at nearby Mackinac Island. Because shipping ceased during the winter, this lighthouse was dark part of the year.

In 1947, the Round Island Lighthouse was abandoned, replaced by a functional but unattractive light closer to Mackinac Island. The U.S. Forest Service took possession in 1958, and it is now part of the Hiawatha National Forest.

Severe storms in 1972 caused substantial damage to the lighthouse, undermining part of the foundation and endangering the entire building. The Friends of the Round Island Lighthouse, the Hiawatha National Forest, and the Mackinac Island Historical Society worked together and repaired the lighthouse. Additional buffering "rip-rap" was placed around the foundation to prevent further damage. High water in 1986 undermined the foundations of the two outbuildings, and the privy remains askew.

In 1995, work on the lighthouse began again. Boy Scout Troop 323 and the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA) are working to clean the interior and right the privy. Last year, they removed 6000 pounds of trash and debris from inside the lighthouse.

Round Island has no dock, electricity, or other facilities. The lighthouse is closed to the public.

Exterior Photographs

Round IslandThe lighthouse.

Round IslandThe lighthouse with Mackinac Island in background.

Round Island LanternThe lantern room.

Round IslandView of Round Island from the tower.

OutbuildingsThe privy (leaning) and oil house.

Interior Photographs

On May 25 and 26, Round Island Lighthouse was open to the public as part of its Centennial celebration. Thanks to GLLKA and Scout Troop 323, I was able to get to Round Island and tour the interior. I have included a number of interior pictures from that trip.

The lighthouse has 3 main levels, plus the tower landings. The bottom floor originally held the mechanicals for the fog horn. One air compressor remains in place, and another used to sit beside it. The keepers sometimes had to run the fog signal around the clock. A pipe, no longer in place, would have connected the compressor with the horn outside the building. The horn was mounted on the second floor of the lighthouse. A platform at that level is visible in the external shots.

Mechanical RoomThe mechanical room on first floor.

Fog horn mountFog horn platform.

In addition to the mechanical room, the base of the tower is accessible on the bottom floor. In one corner of the tower base are the remains of the cabinet, or chase, through which the weights that turned the light descended. The rotation of the lens was controlled by the descent of weights, as in a grandfather clock. This chase is also visible on the floors above.

The second floor contained the kitchen, living room, dining room, and a small room. The walls were originally covered with plaster and lathe, but little of that remains.

Kitchen WindowKitchen window

Note the lath ceiling, wainscotting, and brick detail in the kitchen. The windows have been replaced by metal grates to allow air movement and prevent vandalism.

In the corner of the dining room, the pipes that went to the fog horn (from the compressor on the floor below) are visible.

Dining roomThe corner of dining room where the fog horn was mounted.

Weight chaseThe weight chase, second floor.

The third floor has bedrooms and a small watch room from which the lantern was accessible. The watch room contained the weight chase and some built-in cabinets. Above that room was another landing, on which the base of a metal ladder rested. Hooks at the top of the weight chase were used in supporting the weights.

Weight supportsWeight supports.

The lantern room is quite small, with extremely clouded windows. A temporary optic had been installed for the Centennial. An access panel in the lantern opened to allow access onto the platform.

OpticTemporary optic.


This page is still under construction.

Other sights in the area: