HMCC launches new lighthouse exhibitions on the North Pier and at Museum

May 16, 2018 5:44 pm Published by

The Heritage Museum & Cultural Center in St. Joseph is celebrating our statewide and local lighthouse heritage in 2018 with new exhibitions! Out on the North Pier, a display is set to debut inside the iconic Inner Lighthouse on June 1. At the Heritage Museum, special exhibits throughout 2018 highlight the history and legacy of lighthouses across the state. Museum visitors can also view the restored Fresnel Lenses from St. Joseph’s North Pier Lights— it is the only exhibit on the Great Lakes featuring a pair of Fresnel Lenses from the same range light system. An Opening Celebration is planned, with a reception at the museum on Thursday, June 14 and special free tours at the lighthouse June 15-16.

On the North Pier: The St. Joe Lighthouse Tour Exhibition

Enter the North Pier’s Inner Lighthouse & Fog Signal Building and step into the old lighthouse keeper’s shoes. Explore historic photos, maps, and reproductions. Enjoy the opportunity to climb up to the lantern for a breathtaking view of the harbor (must be 4 feet tall). Catch a photo-opportunity with St. Joseph’s longtime Lighthouse Keeper, Captain Ollhoff!

This long-term interpretive exhibit on the pier was made possible by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was also funded by a grant from the Berrien Community Foundation and a gift from Entergy – Palisades Power Plant.

The exhibit is available to be viewed during walking tours and open hours offered throughout the summer. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, FREE open hours are scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays, 11:00am to 2:00pm, weather permitting. Learn more at and look for daily updates on our Facebook Page, Additional Special Open Hours in 2018 are: Thursday, June 21, 7:00-10:00pm (Solstice Sunset); Friday, July 13, 7:00-10:00pm (Krasl Art Fair Weekend); and Sunday, September 2, 8:00-11:00am (Tri-State Regatta Departures).

At the Museum: “Michigan Lighthouses” and “Ladies of the Lights”

To complement the new exhibit on the pier, two traveling exhibitions exploring lighthouse history are featured at the Heritage Museum through the end of 2018.

Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective presents the stunning work of pilot John L. Wagner, who photographed every Michigan lighthouse while flying his own Cessna 172 airplane. Mr. Wagner published a hardcover book of his photography in 1993 which became the basis for this traveling exhibit. With more than 75 aerial photographs on display throughout the museum, an exhibition booklet accompanies the display to provide a location reference and more background about each Light. Additions include models and mementos of the St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouses. Mr. Wagner will visit St. Joseph for two presentations about his photography; complete details are listed below.

The second traveling exhibit looks closer at the stories and experiences of lighthouse keepers— Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.

Lighthouse keeping in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a rugged life filled with long hours and hard work, punctuated by periods of real peril. Still, at least 50 women in Michigan were employed as lighthouse keepers. This comprehensive exhibit, developed by the Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame, shares their stirring stories of dedication, courage, and determination.

These museum exhibits invite visitors to try their hand building a LEGO lighthouse, and to “dress the keeper” in a section about Lighthouse Service uniforms. Visitors can also take a seat to view a selection of aerial drone footage of the St. Joseph Lighthouses, provided courtesy of the Great Lakes Drone Company.

Opening Celebration Events June 14-16, 2018

Lighthouse Exhibits Opening Reception – Thursday, June 14

          5:00 – 7:30pm – Refreshments served, Exhibits open. A Door Prize drawing will be held at 6:30pm for a KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer!

       6:30pm – Speaker and Book Signing: Pilot/ Photographer John L. Wagner. Using a set of skills learned over 9,000 hours of flying and 40 years working in the aviation industry, John L. Wagner photographed every lighthouse in Michigan from the sky. Starting in 1986, the project took six and a half years and resulted in a self-published 11×14” tabletop book in 1993. In this program, Mr. Wagner discusses his airplane, flying, and composition techniques, the camera equipment used, and the publishing process. Copies of his hardcover photography book will be available for purchase and signing. Sponsored by the Twin City Camera Club and Candlewood Suites – Stevensville. Free Admission.


Brown Bag Lunch Artist’s Talk – Friday, June 15, Noon

The Box Factory for the Arts, 1101 Broad Street, St. Joseph

Pilot/ Photographer John L. Wagner presents an Encore presentation and book signing at the Box Factory for the Arts. Bring your own Lunch, optional. Free Admission. (Note: June 15 is also opening night for the Box Factory’s Michiana Annual Art Competition!)


Free Tower Climbs – Friday and Saturday, June 15-1611:00am – 2:00pm (weather permitting)
North Pier Inner Lighthouse, St. Joseph

During our Lighthouse Open Hours, come out for a FREE tour up to the lantern as we celebrate the new exhibit on the pier (normally a $5 charge). First-come, first-served; must be at least 4 feet tall to climb. Tours may be cancelled due to pier conditions; the status for the day will be posted at Tiscornia Beach Park and on our St. Joe Lighthouse Tours Facebook page.

Learn more about the Heritage Museum & Cultural Center at and on Facebook! Located at 601 Main Street at the Priscilla U. Byrns Center, this non-profit organization was founded in 1965 to preserve and share the history of the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor community. The Museum organizes St. Joe Lighthouse Tours on the North Pier, a seasonal program made possible after a momentous restoration of the Lights was completed by the City of St. Joseph in 2016. For more information, please contact the Heritage Museum at 269-983-1191 or