The Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse, or "Point of Little Boats" lighthouse, was given its name by the French coureur-du-bois ("runners of the woods"). It was at this location that early French fur-trappers, who traveled by birch-bark canoe, gathered each spring to trade winter furs and take on fresh supplies.
Saginaw Bay is a large, shovel-shaped projection of Lake Huron that cuts deep into eastern Michigan. Because its waters are so shallow -- often less than eight feet -- it represents a considerable hazard to large lake-traveling boats with any sort of draft.
For this reason, the U.S. Lighthouse Board in 1848 commissioned the building of the Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse on the prominent headland where Saginaw Bay meets Lake Huron.
Today, the nearby town of Port Austin is still a busy shipping port, although furs have been replaced by timber, fish, coal, copper, and other natural resources of the north country.
After the first lighthouse proved less than desired, a second was built in 1857 that still stands today. The current tower, painted white to increase visibility, is conical in shape and stands just under 90 feet.
Although the lighthouse keeper is long gone, replaced by automated timers and sensors, the Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse still shines with a flashing white light that is visible nearly 20 miles out on Lake Huron. The original Fresnel lens is on display at the Grice Museum in Port Austin.
The Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse is particularly beautiful in the fall. The surrounding oaks and maples turn brilliant shades of red and orange, the Michigan sky is a clear autumnal blue, and the waters of Lake Huron are touched here and there with whitecaps.