For more than a century, the Illinois Old Michigan City Lighthouse lit the way for sailors on the Great Lakes. Beginning as a simple lantern mounted atop a tall pole near the present site of the lighthouse, it was soon replaced by a permanent structure consisting of a 40-foot tower topping a two-story house that served as the lighthouse keeper’s residence.
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In 1858, a more imposing brick lighthouse was constructed to guide the large ships carrying grain and lumber on Lake Michigan. The single round structure served as both lighthouse tower and residence for the lighthouse keeper. The lantern atop the tower initially burned whale oil for illumination and its Fresnel magnifying lens produced a light visible for 15 miles.
In 1904, the Illinois Old Michigan City Lighthouse was remodeled and enlarged, adding additional rooms and an apartment residence for the assistant lighthouse keeper. In 1939, all lighthouse operations in the United States were assumed by the United States Coast Guard and the last civilian lighthouse keepers retired. The Coast Guard deactivated the Illinois Old Michigan City Lighthouse in 1940. For the next quarter of a century, the facility stood abandoned.
In 1965, the Michigan City Historical Society undertook an historical restoration of the lighthouse, culminating in the founding of the Old Lighthouse Museum in 1973. Today, the Old Lighthouse Museum offers public tours of the facility from April through October.