Michigan City is the first harbor in the state of Indiana. This harbor pretty well marks the end of the sandy shoreline and forgiving bottom, as well as the Michigan Harbors of Refuge. Michigan City is located at the mouth of Trail Creek where it enters Lake Michigan. As we straddle the border between the industrial southern tip of the lake and the dunes beaches that stretch up the Michigan shore, Michigan offers something of both worlds.
We could easily spot Michigan City from a distance because of the huge stacks of the Northern Indiana Public Service company’s coal-fired plant. We were told that a few years ago there was so much soot coming from the plant that the company would hire people to wash the boats in Washington Marina. The company would even replace bimini tops if they were discolored. Today due to modern technology this plant runs so clean you would think it’s not operational. Yes this plant still runs on coal and boat owners in the marina are happy without the black soot on their boats.
As we enter the harbor inlet to Michigan City we pass by the lighthouse built-in 1904 which has become the most popular symbol of Michigan City and is the only public operating lighthouse in Indiana. Michigan’s City’s first light was a simple post light located approximately 100 feet west of the present lighthouse. A post light was a lantern on a tall pole. The elevated walkways know as the catwalk was used by lighthouse keepers for 29 years to access the light tower. In 1933 this light on the east pier was electrified and in 1939 the U.S. Coast Guard took over the service. Kent and I had a nice walk out to the lighthouse and we saw several people fishing.
We are docked at Washington Park Municipal Marina located right in Washington Park. The park encompasses a public beach, a zoo, and Art Deco observation tower, and much more. A boater named Greg helped us when we docked and he was so nice to take us to the grocery store. We had a nice time visiting with him and his wife Linda, they live in Indianapolis. This marina is very large and we are docked close to the beach area which was nice when we took advantage of the nice walkway on the beach. It wasn’t so convenient when I wanted to do laundry and had to walk over a 1/2 mile one way to the office. I really got my exercise in that day.
The beaches in Michigan at all the ports are beautiful with walk ways, benches, and most of them allow you to walk out to the lighthouse. If you look at the picture of this light pole you can see how much paint has been sand blasted off due to high winds.
Kent and I walked over the Franklin Street bascule lift bridge built-in 1938. This bridge is the only historic movable bridge in Indiana. In 1908 an old swing bridge was demolished and replaced here at Franklin street, but in 1910 it was damaged when the SS United States backed into it and collapsed into the river. The bridge was severely damaged. In 1911 it was repaired and used until the new lift bridge was built-in 1938. On our way back the bridge was opened for a boat but when it went back down it didn’t lock and had to be reopened which still didn’t fix the problem. We walked across the bridge even if cars couldn’t drive on it and told the vehicles waiting to take the other bridge. This was our good deed for the day. There is a park where boaters can dock before the bridge and a marina after the bridge. The fee to tie up to the wall without any amenities is as expensive as docking in the Washington Marina.
We toured the Old lighthouse museum and original 1858 light station which replaced the one built-in 1837 at waters edge. The lighthouse whose beacon served as a guiding light for Great Lakes sailors for more than 100 years. As shipping in Michigan City increased, primarily grain and lumber, a brighter light was needed to guide ships into the busy port. In 1858 the U.S. Government constructed a lighthouse using Joliet stone for the foundation and Milwaukee or “Cream City” bricks for the superstructure which served as both light and the keeper’s living quarters. The date of 1858 can still be seen on the south outside wall of the building. You can see it in the bottom picture. In 1904 the lantern was moved to the newly constructed Pierhead light where its beacon shone until it was replaced in 1980.
There were seven keepers and fourteen assistant keepers over the years with Ralph Moore as the last one in 1940 when the building was closed. The building stood vacant for 25 years suffering significantly neglect and vandalism. It became the property of Michigan City in 1964 restored and established as a museum in 1973. Our guide in the lighthouse was Judy and Larry with a lot of historic information about the museum. We toured all eight rooms and then went up to the lantern tower. The door bell is from 1858 and still works, if your good Larry lets you ring the bell ( I got to ring it).
We are standing next to the Fresnel Lens 4th order. In 1822 Augustin Fresnel designed lenses that collected and focused light rays into a horizontal beacon making the light more visible to ships on the horizon. The Fourth Order lens was used in major harbor lights which lead the mariner into the channel at the entrance of a harbor mouth. This was by far the most commonly used lens on the Great Lakes.
The fence around the lighthouse has 844 links which represents the passengers lost on the SS Eastland in 1915. SS Eastland was a passenger ship based in chicago and used for tours. On July 24, 1915 the ship rolled over onto its side while tied to a dock in the chicago River. A total of 844 passengers and crew were killed in what was the largest loss of life from a single shipwreck on the Great Lakes. Eastland and four other great lakes passengers steamers were chartered to take employees from Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Il to a picnic in Michigan City. Eastland had a design flaw making it susceptible to listing and the ship was top-heavy. In those early morning hrs. of that dreadful day the ship reached its capacity of 2,572 passengers and started to list to port side (left). The crew attempted to stabilize the ship by adding water to its ballast tanks but to little avail. Sometime during the next 15 minutes a number of passengers rushed to port side (left) and it rolled completely on its side resting on the bottom.
Kent and I had a great day we walked to the beach and then stopped and had a drink at the roof top bar. The view was great out over the beach and Lake Michigan. We left the roof top bar and walked to Bartleyes Fish Camp for dinner. We had a great time in Michigan City, Indiana. We are still on Lake Michigan.