Old Lighthouse Museum

Built in 1858, this Michigan City, Indiana, lighthouse was a beacon and keeper’s residence until the early 1940s. The Michigan City Historical Society opened it as a museum in 1973.

Exterior of Michigan City, Indiana’s Old Lighthouse Museum in the winter (photo by Josh McIntyre)

Originally built in 1858, Michigan City’s old lighthouse has been transformed into a museum depicting the extensive and colorful maritime history of the city and its citizenry. During the mid-to-late 1800s, the harbor was one of the Great Lakes’ busiest for trade and transportation.

The brick-and-stone lighthouse remained a beacon and keeper’s residence until the early 1940s, when it was abandoned. The Michigan City Historical Society took the helm of the property in 1965 and refurbished the historic building before opening it as a museum in 1973.

Today, the Old Lighthouse Museum brims with artifacts, memorabilia, maps and photographs from the past throughout its galleries and across its grounds. Solemn tribute is paid to one of the worst nautical disasters in American history, the capsizing of the SS Eastland in Chicago. More than 2,500 employees of Western Electric Co. and their families boarded the passenger ship for a picnic in Michigan City on July 24, 1915. They never arrived. The vessel rolled over into the Chicago River and 844 people perished. Outside the museum, an anchor-chain fence made up of 844 links represents each victim. The chain is 262 feet long, the length of the ship.

Other exhibits commemorate the life of lightkeeper Harriet Colfax, who faithfully guided sailors for 43 years, and the funeral train of President Abraham Lincoln, which stopped in Michigan City. Adventurous visitors can climb the narrow spiral staircase to the compact lantern room above the rooftop for far-reaching views of the city.

Visitors are sure to wonder why the lighthouse sits so far back from the lake. Originally, it stood along the shore, but over the years, strong wind and water currents caused so much sand to accumulate that a new beach was formed. 100 Heisman Harbor, Michigan City, Indiana 46360, 219/872-6133, mchistorical.org