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In 1837, Lieutenant G.J. Pendergrast surveyed Charity Island. With a massive increase in shipping in the area, he saw the need for a lighthouse to be constructed on the island.
In 1856, Congress appropriated $5,000 for construction of the lighthouse. The project began in 1856, by the following year construction was complete. Charles McDonald would serve as the lighthouse’s longest attendant, working on the island for more than 30 years.
Charity Island is about 10 miles from the southern shore of Saginaw Bay. Except for the seasonal residents who live and host tours at the keeper’s house, the island is uninhabited. This island and Little Charity Island are considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services as the more remote and least visited islands in the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge.