Big Red Lighthouse

Name of Historic Site:  Holland Harbor South Pier Lighthouse – “Big Red”

The Holland Harbor Lighthouse – “Big Red” – is an integral part of the history of Holland, but the lighthouse is actually located in Park Township. A stormy history — filled with disappointment countered by determination. Soon after the Dutch settlers came to the area in 1847, their leader, Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte, wrote to the governor and the U.S. Congress requesting funds for the building of a harbor. Van Raalte knew from the beginning that if this new community were to flourish, access to Lake Michigan, to and from Black Lake, (now Lake Macatawa) was essential. However, the entrance to the lake from Lake Michigan was blocked with sandbars and silt.

The first lighthouse was erected with $4,000 of federal funds in 1872, twenty years before the harbor was complete. It was a small, square, wooden structure that stood on an open platform on legs above the deck of the pier. On top was a lantern deck with a ten-window lantern room.

Big Red Lighthouse

The lighthouse keeper had to carry his lighted oil lamp along a catwalk, which stretched from the shore where he lived to the lamp under a lens or magnifying device. When fog obscured the light, he signaled incoming boats by blowing an 18-inch fish horn often used on sailboats.

Both the pier and the wooden lighthouse had taken a beating from the weather over the years. So after the turn of the century, when the harbor was finally finished, a breakwater was built and the wooden tower was replaced by a taller, steel structure which housed the lamp.

The steel tower was an obvious improvement from the wooden structure. Not only could it better withstand severe weather, but, by raising the height of the light, it could be spotted by incoming vessels as far away as thirteen miles.

When fog lay on the lake, as it so often did, a light signal was useless. It was obvious that a fog signal, stronger than a fish horn, must accompany the higher light. In 1907, a steam operated fog signal was installed. Two coal-fed Marine boilers produced steam to sound the locomotive whistle used as a fog signal.

To house the signal, the 12th Lighthouse District, which had federal jurisdiction over the lighthouse, designed and constructed a separate building, the basis of today’s lighthouse. This structure, unlike its two predecessors, was not placed on legs, thereby affording greater stability. The wood upper level is Queen Anne Victorian in style. The steeply sloped roof gables and Palladian window motif, still intact, are evidence of the early Victorian style.

Originally, both the steel tower and the fog signal building were painted pale yellow with a deep maroon base. In 1956, however, the Coast Guard sandblasted the tower and painted it bright red to satisfy a requirement for the aids to navigation that a structure or light on the right side of any harbor entrance must be red.

This final phase of lighthouse development brings us to the structure as we know it today. In 1934 the light was electrified. In 1936, plans were made to abandon the steam driven fog signal, now nearly 30 years old, and install air powered horns using electricity as a power source for air compressors. Electrification also marked the end of the era of lighthouse keepers that had spanned 68 years.

Phone Number:  616.399.9390


Address:  2215 Ottawa Beach Rd Holland, MI 49424 (located on the south pier in Holland State Park)