Fresnel Lens Based Beacon Returns to Harbor Beach Lighthouse

by Buzz Hoerr

After a nearly 3 year process of negotiation with the Coast Guard on legal technicalities, the Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society is returning the original sweeping red and white beam of light to the lighthouse! It will return in the form of an exact replica of the original 4th order lens in every aspect, including performance that was reviewed and approved by the Coast Guard, as designed and built by Artworks Florida. There are several of these lenses currently at work in multiple locations throughout the US.

The only difference between this new replica and the original lens, currently on display at the Grice House Museum at the marina in Harbor Beach, is the thoroughly modern method of producing the prisms by using 3D printing of acrylics instead of glass. These prisms are much less expensive and time consuming to fabricate. They perform exactly as designed by Augustin Fresnel, who invented the system of varying combinations of refraction prisms to create a focused beam of light from a relatively low power light source. Fresnel’s designs were the catalyst for a system of aids to navigation that proliferated throughout the world in the mid to late 19th century, including the Great Lakes.

Fresnel lenses were determined to have a very high value by the late 20th century and were removed and conserved either in storage or on display, as the Harbor Beach lens has been at the Grice House. They were replaced by several generations of modern optics that were designed to be maintenance free and perform the function of an aid to navigation, but the charm and beauty of the “light”house was lost in the process.

So the Society launched a fundraising campaign to “Bring Back the Light!” and over 90 individuals and businesses chipped in with donations from $100 to $5,000 to have their names on prisms and other components. The entire cost of the new replica was raised over last summer. A new solar tower with panels and storage batteries will provide all the energy needed to power the new lens and the exterior lighting.

In order to have a proper celebration and ceremony to light the new lens, the Society’s Marketing Committee developed a 130th Birthday Celebration of the original commissioning of the lighthouse in 1885, which will take place Saturday, July 18. It will include an afternoon and evening of activities and public events, tours of the lighthouse by boat, speakers featuring Dennis Hale, the lone survivor of the 1966 sinking of the Daniel J. Morrell and a catered dinner topped off by lighting the new lens!

For more information on the 130th, booking tours on line and how to join the Society, check out the rest of this website.