A lighthouse is not always a lighthouse. Okay, a lighthouse may not always be an operational lighthouse. From 1998 to 2004, travelers stopping at the Monroe MI Welcome Center on I-75 were greeted by a lighthouse. The lighthouse was not operational yet it paid homage to the more than 200 lighthouses in Michigan. In 2004 when the center was renovated, the lighthouse lost its home. In steps St. Ignace MI…
St. Ignace and Monroe are both lake cities with Monroe being approximately ten times larger than St. Ignace. St Ignace is 320 miles north of Monroe on I-75 and that is what the disassembled lighthouse traveled to its new home. It came in five pieces and sat on the Chief Wawatam Dock while its new platform was being constructed. Once reconstructed, the original red, white and green colors were changed to white with red accents. On June 2006 it was set in place and waited for its U.S. Coast Guard certification. With the certification complete, the once decorative symbol of Michigan was now a functioning lighthouse. Its light was lit August 20, 2006 and is visible for 13 miles over Lake Huron. If you measure its height, it would be 52’ yet the Coast Guard list it as 62’. This is because the Coast Guard calculates height from the water line. It is an aid to navigation all year – during the winter months, it aids snowmobiles on the frozen lake.
Needing a name, St. Ignace went to its history. From 1911 to 1984, a railroad ferry, SS Chief Wawatam, used the dock where the lighthouse stands guard. SS Chief Wawatam was both a train ferry and an icebreaker, needed during harsh winters on the lake. In honor of the old ferry, the lighthouse was named Wawatam Lighthouse. The park area has history information and parts of the old lift gate and dock are still standing.
Maybe this is not history repeating itself…the SS Chief Wawatam safely carried rail cars between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City and now the Wawatam Lighthouse aids in navigational safety. It does show that history can be carried forward and enjoyed.