Grosse Point Light

Evanston, Illinois | C.1872

Photo Credit: Samuel Lima

Winds raged, waves swelled, and yet two boats could be spotted navigating the treacherous waters of Lake Michigan. It was 1860, and in the early hours of the morning, off the coast of Chicago, a passenger steamer, Lady Elgin, and a lumber-bearing schooner, the Augusta, collided.

The next day, devastated Chicagoans received news of the accident that had led to over 300 passengers not returning from their voyage. To make matters worse, the fatal crash occurred in front of the exact location that residents had been petitioning for a lighthouse, due to previous wrecks that had occurred within its dangerous waters. Because the Civil War was still raging, the new lighthouse project had been put on the back burner until 1873.

Once the War concluded, the Government turned its attention to those deadly shores outside of Chicago, in the suburb of Evanston, to commission the new lighthouse. The man in charge was Orlando Metcalfe Poe, who was responsible for most of the early lighthouse construction seen throughout the Great Lakes. (In fact, he built so many of them that Great Lakes’ explorers  can identify the multiple “Poe-style” Lighthouses)

Poe built the lighthouse on a twenty-five foot bluff known as Grosse Point (Great Point), and decided it was an appropriate name for his latest construction. At its peak operation, the Grosse Point Lighthouse had 3 keepers who rotated shifts, until it was electrified in 1923, and later decommissioned in the 1940s.

Though no longer active, the keeper’s house now operates as a maritime museum. Visitors can still climb to the top of the light tower in the summer months, to peer over and out upon the waters of Lake Michigan that—thanks to Poe’s construction and its shining light—haven’t since weathered a tragic accident like the collision of Lady Elgin and the Augusta.

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