Do you still need convincing Lake Michigan is truly an inland ocean? Well, consider the fact that the remains or full structures of something like 87 lighthouses are to be found on the shores and islands of the third largest of the Great Lakes? There are 20 of them are found on Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula alone. They stand from the Kewaunee South Pierhead north along the lakeshore to the Pottawatomie and Boyer Bluff Lights on Washington Island at the tip of the peninsula then back on both shores of Green Bay to the Grassy Island Range Lights at the mouth of the Fox River.
Lake Michigan has long been and continues to be an important transportation waterway for resources, goods, and passengers. In these days of GPS and sonar, it may be hard to imagine how vital lighthouses were to keep ships and boats safe on the Great Lakes. In their day, they were the ONLY safe way to navigate the Great Lakes. Even today, you must remember – electronics can fail.
The place to begin a tour of Door Peninsula lighthouses is at the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay. Their exhibits offer a fantastic primer on lighthouse history and their guides can point you to the lighthouses you’ll want to see if you don’t have time to get to them all … like the 50 Campfires team had to do.
A couple of great websites to check out if you want more info on lighthouses all the way around Lake Michigan’s shores or across all of the Great Lakes are LighthouseFriends.com and Lighthouses of the Great Lakes. They offer lists, maps, and descriptions of lighthouses across the Upper Midwest and more.
Most of the Door Peninsula lighthouses were built in the mid-1800s with an especially busy period from 1852 to 1860. When a ship’s captain could see a lighthouse, he knew exactly where he was because of the different styles, colors, and configurations the lights were built in.
The 50 Campfires team viewed or visited a number of Door County lighthouses and learned interesting facts about each of them:
Old Bailey’s Harbor Lighthouse
Built in 1852. It never worked properly from Day One, and in 1866 was deemed to be in “very defective condition.” It was lit for the last time on December 1, 1869.
Bailey’s Harbor Range Lights
Range lights are actually pairs of lighthouses that ship captains “line up” to make sure they are on course, usually to safely enter or depart a harbor. The Bailey’s Harbor Range Lights began operation in 1869 and were shuttered 1969. They were dormant for 46 years, then rebuilt and put back into service in 2015 making them the only range lights standing in their original location on all of the Great Lakes.
Cana Island Lighthouse
Remains a navigational icon on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan to this day. First lit in 1870, the original light’s lamp was fueled with lard! It became automated in 1944.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
The first keeper at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Henry Stanley, lit its lamp for the first time on October 13, 1868. He was born in Norway and immigrated to the United States and “rushed” to California in 1949 to search for gold. It didn’t “pan out” for Stanley, so he found his way to Door County and became Eagle Bluff’s first keeper.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse
Sherwood Point Lighthouse at the western entrance to Sturgeon Bay has the distinction of being the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It was not automated until 1983 – 100 years after its construction. It’s also recognized as a haunted house. The story is that in 1928 assistant keeper Minnie (Hesh) Cochems suffer and stroke and died while getting out of bed in an upstairs bedroom. Her husband William stayed on until his retirement in 1933. Residents and visitors since have reported hearing voices, rattling teacups at night, and a “presence” on the stairs.