Presque Isle Front Range Light
Presque Isle Harbor Range Light (1870)
Built 1870; in service 1871-present
Location: East Grand Lake Road north of 638 Highway, Presque Isle, MI 49777
When the Old (1840) Lighthouse went dark, its function of safely guiding mariners into Presque Isle Harbor was taken over by the Range Light. These two beacons put mariners in the channel leading into the harbor, avoiding the shallows to either side. After more than 140 years the Range Light remains an active aid to navigation. The site is now a park owned and operated by Presque Isle Township.
When You Visit
Range Light Park is located on east Grand Lake Road, two-tenths of a mile north of the intersection with Highway 638. The park is open dawn to dusk throughout the year.
Park your car in the lot across the road from Range Light Park. At the back of the parking area is the Rear Light atop a tall steel tower. The old fuel storage building is nearby. Behind the fence is the old keeper’s residence which is now a private home.Use caution as you cross E. Grand Lake Road to the Park, as this is a 55 mph highway! Please watch for oncoming traffic and do not assume that drivers will slow down for the pedestrian crossing.
Close to the road you will find the original 1870 Front Range Light tower, and near it a statue of Anna Garrity who served as Keeper for more than two decades. The burial site of Adeline Sims, wife of Keeper William Sims, is across the service drive.
A short walkway leads to the beach on Presque Isle Bay. This stretch of sandy shoreline, rare on rocky Lake Huron, is a fine place to swim or relax. The harbor view is excellent. Picnic tables, grills, and portable toilets are located nearby. Kindly respect the private properties on either side of the park.
The Range Light Park now includes a wider walkway and a picnic shelter, both accessible for those with limited mobility.
Presque Isle Rear Range circa 1963
Photograph courtesy Archives of Michigan
A History of Range Light Park
After 30 years of service, the Old (1840) Lighthouse at Presque Isle was decommissioned and the New (1870) Light was illuminated at the start of the 1871 shipping season. However, boats still required safe access to the Harbor. The Range Light met this need.
Range lights are paired beacons, one higher than the other, with the two separated by a distance. When aligned vertically, these lights provide a bearing to guide mariners safely through a channel. In other countries these beacons are called “leading lights” because they form a “leading line” (course) for safe passage through shallow or dangerous waters.
In daylight the beacons are supplemented by daymarks — painted panels visible at a distance. Like the lights at night, these panels must be aligned vertically to assure a proper course. The U.S. Coast Guard uses twelve patterns for daymarks. Presque Isleʼs daymark pattern, designated KRW, has three vertical stripes, two red-orange with a white stripe between.
In June 1869, for a sum of $100, Fredrick Burnham sold 8.5 acres on Presque Isle Harbor to the United States Government to serve as the site for a range light. The original structures were constructed the following year. This installation consisted of a short wooden tower housing the Front Light, and in the Keeperʼs Dwelling a third floor room with a large window for display of the Rear Light.
On September 8, 1870, Isaac Codington was named first Keeper of the Range Light with an annual salary of $540. He supervised construction and served until his death five years later. William Sims, his assistant, took over and, in 1887, was followed by Thomas Garrity. Thomas was son of Patrick Garrity Sr., Keeper at the New Light. In 1891 Patrick Sr. became Range Light Keeper and Thomas transferred to the New Light. Patrick was followed in 1903 by his daughter, Anna Garrity. Anna, who served for 23 years, is one of just 27 female lighthouse keepers to serve on the Great Lakes. In turn she was followed by Vincent Newagon, Clement Richardson, and Gustav Hansen during the period 1923-39. Records are unclear, but it seems likely that USCG personnel tended the Range Light after 1939.
In 1967 the Front Range Light was replaced with a new tower. The original wooden structure was moved to the entrance to the Old Lighthouse Park. Several years later it was moved back to Range Light Park, placed near the road, and renovated. A tall steel tower replaced the Rear Range Light, and the former Keeperʼs Dwelling became a private home. Both the Front and Rear Lights remain under supervision of the Coast Guard.
The second Keeper (1875-87) was Capt. William Sims. His wife Adeline died during his tenure and was buried on the Range Light property. Her marker includes a Masonic emblem. Relatives of William and Adeline Sims live in the Presque Isle area and continue to tend the grave.
Presque Isle Front Range Light circa 1963
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Oil House at the Range Lights, held 350 gallons of oil.