If you follow our Facebook page regularly, you know how excited we’ve been over the past few months to share the St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouses with the public! Since the Lighthouse Forever fundraising campaign began, we have watched the City of St. Joseph, Smay Trombley Architecture and Mihm Enterprises complete the detailed and award-winning restoration of the lights, all while waiting patiently for our chance to share their incredible work with our community.
Putting together a new walking tour is hard work! Our museum staff members had to decide upon a theme for the tour, what historical facts and photos we would share, what route we would take and how long each tour would last. With so many interesting stories surrounding the lights and their restoration, these were tough decisions indeed! We have discovered that the pier is a challenging place to hold public tours.
We couldn’t get in the way of the highly-specialized restoration crew completing their work, so we also had to wait to plan how we would guide our guests through the Inner Lighthouse itself. The lights were certainly never meant to be accessible to the public; Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard personnel were expected to walk narrow catwalks, duck under low ceilings, and climb steep staircases and ladders to tend the beacons in all types of weather. What would be the best way to help visitors reach the lantern room for those spectacular views of St. Joseph’s harbor from the iconic tower?
In early May, museum staff toured the lighthouse with Susan Solon from the City of St. Joseph. We practiced climbing the ladders, noted where we had to duck our heads, and measured the length of the walk down the pier. After spending time with the restoration crew from Smay Trombley Architecture and Mihm Enterprises, and comparing the before and after conditions of the lights, we decided to make the restoration itself the theme for our first season of tours. HMCC Curator Tracy got right to work writing a script around this theme and putting together visual aids for the tour guides to share.
Before we knew it, June arrived and we had our first chance to share these incredible icons of our community with the public. June 4, 2016 marked the dedication of the donor memorial at the pier’s base, which commemorates the generosity of donors and success of the Lighthouse Forever Fund. Since then, our staff and volunteers have welcomed visitors every weekend – and we have loved every minute of sharing this maritime history with our guests!
Are you interested in coming on one of these tours yourself? You can purchase tickets at stjoelighthousetours.org or by calling the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center at (269) 983-1191. The tours last for approximately an hour and cover nearly 3/4 of a mile from start to finish. If you choose to climb the tower, please wear secure shoes (thong-type sandals will not be allowed on the ladder). Tower-climbers must also be 48 inches tall and at least 8 years old. We recommend dressing for the weather – sunny or not! – and advise against wearing dresses or skirts. Tours may be cancelled if wave/wind conditions make walking the pier unsafe, but we are happy to reschedule or refund your tickets in that event.