Round Island Has Long, Complex History
There are a thousand unanswered questions about the little, uninhabited Island that lies just across the channel from Mackinac. Round Island has had a long and complex history, although there is not much sign of it now.
Historical records point to extensive human use on Round Island, from indications that it was a burial ground to rumors of military groups. But today there is little sign of human interaction with the remote island, aside from trash left by people landing on the shore for picnics and parties, and an old lighthouse that stands on a slip of land on the northwest side, facing Mackinac.
Land was first reserved for the lighthouse in 1874. This north channel through the Straits of Mackinac was a shorter passage for shipping freight, but offshore shoals and frequent foggy days caused most ships to head along the south channel, between Bois Blanc Island and the Lower Peninsula. It came as no particular surprise, then, when in 1884, Congress appropriated money for the construction of the lighthouse. Construction was completed in 1895.
The lighthouse was in operation from 1895 until 1947. For the first 29 years of its use, it was manned by three keepers. In 1924, an automatic light was installed, and only one keeper was needed to keep the lighthouse operating. The lighthouse was abandoned in 1947 when Round Island Passage Light was built in the channel, operated by an automatic horn and light.
Over the years the lighthouse was plagued by vandalism, neglect, and damage by natural elements. A major storm on October 20, 1972, caused a corner of the lighthouse to collapse, along with part of the foundation, making the entire structure vulnerable.
The citizens group, Friends of Round Island Lighthouse, was formed, and working closely with the Michigan History Division of the State Department of Michigan, the Mackinac Island Historical Society, Hiawatha National Forest, and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, they began a public fundraising campaign that allowed the lighthouse to be repaired, stabilized, and restored on the outside.
That group, along with The Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA), the Hiawatha National Forest, and Boy Scout Troop 323, continue to protect the structure.