New Buffalo Light

New Buffalo, Michigan | C.1840

Photo Credit: Bo Tunberg

In 1834, the schooner ‘Post Boy’ lead by Captain Wessel Whittaker ran aground near what is now called State Creek off Lake Michigan. While enroute to shelter in Michigan City, he discovered a place that inspired him and three years later, Whittaker convinced his employers to invest $13,000 to buy the land, naming it New Buffalo.

It was newest town along the Lake Michigan shore. As buildings went up, Whitaker and other founders lobbied the government for a lighthouse. They felt emboldened by the nearby citizens of St. Joseph who had built their own lighthouse in 1831, and Michigan City which had recently finished theirs in 1837.

A site for the lighthouse was selected, and the same man who constructed the Michigan City lighthouse was contracted to complete the job. It was designed to be a near replica of Michigan City Light, but when construction ended, the results were alarming as the lighthouse was virtually inoperable. The tower dome leaked, soaking the lamps and their reflectors.

On January 3, 1840, New Buffalo appointed Thomas S. Smith as its first lighthouse keeper, paying him an annual salary of $350, but instead of serving his duties, he lived in his own home seventeen miles away and hired someone else to perform his contracted duties, pocketing the additional funds.

For 21 years the New Buffalo Light was used as a source of government money and political favors. And for those reasons it had been the focus of numerous official requests to abolish the station. So in August 1859 the government officially shut the lighthouse, and it was subsequently destroyed by erosion. A small replica of the lighthouse was built in the mid 1900s and still stands today at the entrance to New Buffalo City Beach.

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