At Point Betsie Light Station, historic structures have been the focus of a several-phased renovation program that began upon the station’s transfer to Benzie County in 2004. Work was completed on the lighthouse exterior and two significant storage buildings in 2006. Visitors to the site see the lighthouse as it appeared a half century ago near the end of World War II, featuring a black lantern atop the white brick tower, a new wood-shingled red roof, and new windows and doors displaying historically accurate colors.
Lighthouse Renovation – The first floor of the Lighthouse is an exhibition area depicting the history of the lighthouse and the lifesaving operations of the U.S. Lifesaving Service and U.S. Coast Guard at Point Betsie.
The rehabilitation process included the installation of all new utility components in the quarters, restoration of the interior walls and floors, and the complete renewal of the tower and lantern. Funding for these projects came from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program, “Save America’s Treasures” award from the Federal Government, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, along with necessary matching contributions by Point Betsie’s private donors.
The restoration of the Victorian staircase at Point Betsie came by a major gift in memory of former Assistant Keeper Henry LaFreniere and his wife, Hattie. The stairway provides access to a beautiful two-bedroom vacation apartment, called “Keeper’s Quarters.” The income generated from the Keeper’s Quarters Vacation Rental Program is an important source of revenue for Point Betsie Lighthouse. Another important historic contribution consisted of radiators that had previously heated Point Betsie’s adjacent Coast Guard station.
As the interior rehabilitation was moving forward, many gifts of furnishings and other period-appropriate items were donated or loaned for display and use. Other items, especially for the apartment, were carefully selected for purchase. The hopes of many Point Betsie devotees were realized when the beautiful Fourth-order Fresnel lens that provided the station’s sweeping beam for about a century was returned by the Coast Guard for display on the lighthouse’s first floor. An electric lift, for which vital funds were received from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, has assisted hundreds of visitors to access the first-floor exhibition area.
The tower structure is probably one that looks impressive from the outside even during the construction but, as you can see, there was a siginficant amount of work to be completed on the tower on both the interior and the exterior. This work included completely sand blasting the entire interior of the tower as well as power scraping the entire exterior. Then the entire exterior and interior was completely painted.
Fog Signal Building – Renovation of the Fog Signal Building, which sits immediately north of the lighthouse, added significantly to the historic ambiance of Point Betsie’s entire campus. During the renovation period, the Fog Signal Building was returned to a look not seen in many decades. It’s exterior siding replicates the original iron needed to house the steam boilers that powered the fog signal in pre-electricity times. The exterior and metal interior walls were restored in 2008, enabling the building to house the lighthouse’s Sesquicentennial exhibition of juried works of art inspired by Point Betsie’s structures and surroundings. Plans are currently underway to increase the use of the Fog Signal Building and open it for public display. On the history and functionality of the building, there is a lot that the Fog Signal Building can tell us about U.S. Coast Guard activities at Point Betsie. Plus, the building has some interesting and unique views of the Dunes and Point Betsie Lighthouse.
The Boathouse – The new Boathouse was completed in 2014 and included a Gift Shop, Exhibit Room, and indoor restrooms. Inside the Boathouse, visitors can see a rare 21-foot, inboard-powered wooden lapstrake boat that originally served as a lighthouse tender at Lake Superior’s Isle Royale. Contributed by the Great Lakes Boat Building School, the boat has been fully restored by dedicated lighthouse volunteers.
Over the reconstruction period many changes occurred. For a more complete understanding please plan your visit to Frankfort, Michigan and reserve at least 1.5 hours at Point Betsie Lighthouse to gain a full understanding of the process and how community members were an essential element to making this transformation possible. Below are four images that contrast and compare the different phases of the preservation effort.
To see more photos of the reconstruction effort visit our Preservation Photo Album located in the Exhibit Room of the Boathouse.