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Michigan City Lighthouse

Updated on December 13, 2015
The Michigan City Lighthouse was built in 1858
The Michigan City Lighthouse was built in 1858 | Source

The Michigan City Lighthouse surprises some people because they don't associate lighthouses with Indiana. The state has about 40 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and there is a lighthouse in Michigan City. The Old Lighthouse, now a museum, was constructed in 1858. It replaced an earlier lighthouse that was built in 1837, on land donated by Isaac Elston, the founder of Michigan City. The first lighthouse on Lake Michigan was built in 1832 near Chicago.


Harriet Colfax

For 43 years, Miss Harriet Colfax served as lighthouse keeper, and it was often referred to locally as "Little Miss Harriet's Lighthouse." You may wonder how a woman who was a piano and voice teacher obtained this job. It didn't hurt that her cousin was Schuyler Colfax. Schuyler was a prominent politician, and eventually became Vice-President in the Grant administration. Back in those days Indiana was a swing state in presidential elections & Indiana politicians were often selected as vice-presidential candidates. Nevertheless, Miss Harriet faithfully discharged her duties during her tenure. These included climbing up to the light twice a night to refill it with oil, trim the wick, and clean the grime off the glass. She also had to walk over a quarter of a mile on the pier out into Lake Michigan to tend another light. According to her diary, gale force winds came close to blowing her off the pier on several occasions. Harriet Colfax never married, but she lived at the lighthouse with her lifelong friend, Ann Hartwell. In 1904, the lighthouse was remodeled and the light was moved out to the entrance of the harbor, where it is still stands. At this time, Miss Colfax retired at the age of 80 since her failing health made it difficult to maintain the new light. The Chicago Tribune once called her “Uncle Sam’s Oldest and Most Reliable Lighthouse Keeper.”

Miss Harriet Colfax and her friend Ann Hartwell
Miss Harriet Colfax and her friend Ann Hartwell | Source

1904 - Present

The lantern tower was removed from the old lighthouse in 1904, but it was still used as living quarters for the keeper. The building was shuttered in 1940 and remained vacant for many years. Michigan City obtained the property in 1964 and leased it to the Michigan City Historical Society. After restorations and adding a replica of the original lantern tower to the roof, the Old Lighthouse Museum opened in 1973.

Hoosier Slide

An early 1900s postcard of the Hoosier Slide
An early 1900s postcard of the Hoosier Slide | Source

The Hoosier Slide, a sand dune over 200 feet high, once occupied the site across the channel from the lighthouse where the generating plant now stands. For centuries it was a landmark that was used by native Americans and early European explorers. About 13 million tons of sand were hauled away between 1890 and 1920. This required an average of 30 boxcar loads per day over this 30-year period. Much of it was used to make glass in Muncie and Kokomo. Some was used as railroad landfill in Chicago.

PFC Daniel D. Bruce

Not far from the lighthouse, there is a memorial to PFC Daniel D. Bruce. He was a U.S. Marine from Michigan City that served in the Vietnam War. He was on watch one night when an enemy grenade was thrown at him. He caught it, and kept it close to his body to protect his comrades as he moved away and attempted to dispose of the device. Unfortunately it exploded too soon and killed him, but his action saved three fellow soldiers. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Memorial to Daniel Bruce
Memorial to Daniel Bruce | Source

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