Photographer: Roy B. Westin

Photo courtesy of: U.S. Coast Guard

Spectacle Reef

Northern Lake Huron, MI

Built :  1870, 1874

Type : Cylindrical, limestone

Status : Active

Location : Northern Lake Huron. Approximately (16) miles Southeast of Les Cheneaux Islands

Lat.  45 46' 04" N  -  Long.  84 08' 02" W

Height : 86 feet (28.3 meters)

Access : Boat

Partial List of Keepers - 1881 thru 1902

1881 - 1896

William Marshall

1896 - 1898

Samuel F. Rogers

1898 - 1902

Walter B. Marshall

The Spectacle Reef: These pair of shoals in Northern Lake Huron, measuring a mere seven to eleven feet from the waters surface, were cause for the foundering of many vessels approaching the Straits of Mackinac. Most ships travel along the North side of this reef. The nearest section of dry land is Bois Blanc Island, approximately 11 miles West. Another hazardous, shallow area known as Raynolds Reef is located approximately 5 miles West and marked only by buoys.

History of the Light : In the fall of 1867, two large schooners were lost on the un-marked Spectacle Reef. A buoy was placed at this location the following year but this aid to navigation would only help mariners during clear daylight hours. This prompted Congress to provide $100,000 to begin construction of a permanent light station in March of 1869. An additional $100,000 was to be provided the following year. Because of it's isolation, this light station still stands today as on of the most expensive lighthouse built on the Great Lakes with $406,000 spent to complete the project and is considered by many to be the greatest piece of monolithic stone masonry in the United States. Supervision of design and construction was appointed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Major O.M. Poe and Major Godfrey Weitzel. 

A base camp was established on Government Island in an area to be later used by the builders of the Martin Reef lighthouse. It consisted of numerous small buildings along with cook and bunk houses. This base camp was located approximately 16 miles Northwest of Spectacle Reef at Scammon's Harbor, an area within Les Cheneaux Islands on the Southeastern side of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The lighthouses isolated location made it's construction an impressive engineering feat.

Spectacle Reef Light Martin Reef

Located near the Northern end of Lake Huron, Spectacle Reef has approximately 170 miles of open water to the Southeast. The lighthouse was to be positioned on the Northern end of the reef to help protect it from the havoc of Lake Huron. Strong Northwestward gales often create monstrous waves that pound the reef and in the winter and spring months these winds can push large sheets of ice. Often 2 to 3 feet thick and covering thousands of acres of water, these large masses are almost unstoppable once in motion with destructive forces. A combination of construction techniques, both crib and cofferdam, would be used to help withstand mother nature.

A crib built of 12 inch timbers sheathed with steel plates, measuring 92 feet square by 24 feet high with a 42 foot open center, was constructed at the base camp. At this time, wreckage and iron ore from the 1867 foundering of NIGHTINGALE was removed from the reef. On July 18, 1871, the crib was towed out to the reef by the tugs CHAMPION and MAGNET along with a number of other vessels. Once in position the following morning, the crib was filled with rock and grounded in position. This crib extended 12 feet above the water providing protection from waves and ice for the crews quarters, cofferdam and landing craft. The crib would eventually be filled with cement forming what is now seen as the square base around the lighthouse. Once the temporary crews quarters were constructed, a Fourth Order Fresnel lens was installed on the roof of one to help guide mariners during it's construction.

A cofferdam of 41 feet in diameter was then constructed inside the crib. It's construction was of 4 x 6 timbers held in place by timber braces and steel straps around it's exterior. The cofferdam was then sealed with portage concrete and pumped free of water. This allowed workers to manually flatten the now dry area of the reef in preparation for the limestone foundation blocks.

In a quarry in Marblehead, Ohio, blocks of limestone measuring 2 feet thick were precisely cut to interlock with each other and delivered to Spectacle Reef. Each course of block was then set and fastened together with 2 1/2 inch diameter x 2 feet long wrought iron bolts. Bolts measuring 3 feet in length enter the reef bedrock 21 inches, lock the first course in place. The following courses, once in position, were then diamond drilled and locked with bolts entering each preceding course by 9 inches. The bolts are wedge shaped at both ends and locked in place with portland cement. Fitting of the first course took approximately two weeks to complete and each of the following courses took only 3 days to fit, drill and bolt.

The stone conical tower measures 32 feet in diameter at the base extending up 93 feet. The tower is solid for the first 34 feet with the remaining 59 feet containing 5 rooms measuring 14 feet in diameter with various ceilings. The tower walls measure 5 feet 6 inches at the base and taper to 16 inches at the top. Construction of the lighthouse was nearly complete with its tower now standing. The winter of 1873 was now setting in and final construction had to be held off until spring.

The winter of 1873-1874 put the lighthouse construction to a test and delayed it's completion. Ice had piled on the reef to a height of 30 feet around the lighthouse and had to be cut away to gain entrance to the doorway. A large Second Order Fresnel lens was then installed within the cast iron lantern room producing a lens focal plane at 86 feet above the water level and 97 feet above the reef bedrock.

For navigational aid in the fog, the station is equipped with an air-diaphone fog signal. As seen in the early Coast Guard photo above, there were also 2 attached out-buildings, today only one remains.

In 1972, the lighthouse was automated. Two electric, Second Order lens' were installed with an illuminating range of 17 miles. The first is a 400,000 candlepower white lens and the second is an 80,000 candlepower red lens. These now exhibit alternating white and red flashes on 5 second intervals.

Other Interesting Facts : The original Second Order Fresnel lens now stands on display at the Great Lakes Historical Society Museum in Vermilion, Ohio.

In 1995, this light was featured on the Great Lakes Lighthouse series of U.S. Postage stamps.

click to enlarge

Visit the Martin Reef lighthouse page to see and here video with a fog signal similar to this one.


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