This week I continue my Door County Wisconsin series by taking you to three of the eleven lighthouses that currently grace the 300 mile coastline of the Door Peninsula. Lighthouses are one of many attractions that make Door County one of the top tourist destinations in the Midwest. For some of my readers that don’t live near big waters such as the Great Lakes here in the US or the long coastlines of countries bordering seas or oceans, you may be wondering about people’s fascination with lighthouses. Keep reading for my feeble attempt at an explanation.
Ever since serious travel commenced on big waters, mariners looked for ways to guide them into safe harbors or to keep them from running aground in shallow water or into hidden rocks just beneath the surface of the water. At first, they used fires built on hilltops or on top of raised platforms, as you can imagine those didn’t last long or needed to be closely attended to be effective. Some of the first lighthouses were built on the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East beginning in the 900’s. The modern era of lighthouse building began in the late 1600’s when transoceanic travel became possible. Advances in architecture, construction and lighting spurred this development when lighthouses were built along the English Channel to prevent shipwrecks on the rocky shoreline.
In the colonies that later became the United States, the first lighthouse was built on the outer reaches of the Boston Harbor. Since then over a thousand lights have been built along the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Oceans as well as many on the Great Lakes. That brings up trivia question one : name the US state that has the most lighthouses? Answer is at the end of this post. Early in the development of the United States, the responsibility for construction, maintenance, and staffing of lighthouses has been the responsibility of the Federal Government, first under the Department of the Treasury and in the 1930’s, the US Coast Guard. Some of the responsibility for historic lighthouses has been transferred to the National Park Service and a few to states and local municipalities. So there’s a long history and fascination with all things lighthouse.
In it’s simplest form, a lighthouse is a tower or building designed to emit a light to serve as a navigational aid for all types and sizes of watercraft, from pleasure boats to large seafaring ships. Many lighthouses also employ the use of loud horns to give warning during times of storms and fog. While most modern lighthouses are unmanned and controlled from a distance, the historical record includes stories about the lighthouse keepers (mostly men), their lives and living quarters, and the evolution of the lights and lens used to send signals. Over the years, a number of books and articles have been written so the literature is replete information. While I was in Door County, I purchased a book titled “Wisconsin Lighthouses, A Photographic and Historical Guide” written by Ken and Barb Wardius and published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The authors revised and updated the book so the most recent volumes was released in 2013. Trivia question number two: How many lighthouses are located in Wisconsin? Trivia question three: Name the three bodies of water where lighthouses are located. See the answers to these questions at the end of this post.
This long lead up brings me to three lights that we visited or photographed during our Door County stay. My interest in lighthouses was fueled when we saw a notice about the 150th Anniversary of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse located within the Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek. The celebration occurred on October 15 exactly 150 years to the day that the light was first lit. The day of the anniversary was mostly sunny but the temperature was in the low 40’s, there was very strong wind out of the west and even a few snowflakes were observed. The crummy weather didn’t discourage the lighthouse affectionados in attendance!
When we arrived the Gibraltar High School marching band from nearby Fish Creek was doing their best to create a festive atmosphere despite the cold and wind.
The small assembled group listened as a local politician issues a proclamation and Ken and Barb Wardius provided a brief history of this light.
This was followed by, what else, CAKE! And of course, lighthouse tours and discussions. One of the things that I learned was that this light is still in use but sending out a white light every six seconds that is visible for up to seven miles. The Museum is open from May through October and guided tours are available for a modest fee. The following is a photographic journey of this historical lighthouse.
On the grounds of the Eagle Bluff Light is a very large ship’s anchor that came from a sailing ship that sank near Sturgeon Bay in the 1920’s.
Even though the weather wasn’t very cooperative, it was interesting learn more about the importance of lighthouses to the maritime economy and increasing safety for those out on the waters.
In one of my posts from October 2017, I included photos of the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal North Pierhead Light.
This year, I found out that the Door County Land Trust has access to the south part of the shipping channel so late one afternoon, we stopped by for a look and some photos. I discovered that the North Pierhead Light had been repainted, as you can see below it’s a very bright red. Almost doesn’t need a light to stand out even on the darkest of nights!
While shooting this light, I noticed the gulls as I walked out on to the south pier. As you can see the waves were rolling in with some gusto but that didn’t bother the gulls!
Nearby is the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse and Coast Guard Station. The photo below was taken last year from the pier of the North Pierhead Light.
This is how this lighthouse appears from the south pier during the late afternoon sunlight with the puffy clouds in the background. Neither this or the North Pierhead light are open to the public but can be viewed from a distance.
There are eight additional lighthouses on the Door peninsula with some open during the summer while other only can be accessed during special events. If you are in Door County and would like to check the lighthouses, click here for a link to learn more.
Hope you enjoyed learning about lighthouses and seeing a few in photos.
Until next week, travel safe.
Answers to Trivia Questions:
- Michigan with over 150 past and present lights.
- Lake Michigan (including those along Green Bay), Lake Superior, and Lake Winnebago with four!