Maritime Tradition: A Wisconsin Lighthouse Tour

Barb and Ken Wardius are the authors of “Wisconsin Lighthouses – A Photographic and Historical Guide”.

No symbol is more synonymous and recognizable with Wisconsin’s maritime tradition than the lighthouse. If only these sentinels could talk. Wisconsin’s 48 beacons, second only in number to the state of Michigan, all have unique personalities. From the northwestern reaches of Lake Superior to the southeastern Lake Michigan port of Kenosha, lighthouses have countless stories. Here are some of our favorites that the public can visit and enjoy.

Lake Superior

Raspberry Island – Apostle Islands

The birth of the Apostle Island lighthouses paralleled the commercial development in Ashland, Bayfield, La Pointe, Superior, and Duluth. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore possesses a grand assortment of eight lighthouses,  all found in National Parks. Native Americans named this isle “Island of Raspberries.” Raspberry Island was first lit in 1863 using oil lamps. A charming two-story dwelling and wooden tower stands 45 feet tall. Today, the Raspberry Island Lighthouse Museum receives more visitors than any other Apostles’ lighthouse. The grounds are impressive, with historically accurate flowerbeds, a vegetable garden and raspberry bushes. Restored to the era of the 1920s, seasonal tours can be arranged through the Apostle Islands Cruise Service in Bayfield. 

Lake Winnebago

Fond du Lac

Part of the Wolf and Fox Rivers, Lake Winnebago (the largest interior lake in Wisconsin) sports four lighthouses. The Fond du Lac lighthouse is situated on the lake’s most southern shore. This decorative eight-sided tower is a picturesque landmark in Lakeside Park. The brainchild of lumberman W. J. Nuss, the lighthouse was built entirely with private funds. First lit in 1933, the white Cape Cod-style wooden tower stands approximately 56 feet tall. A 72-step stairway allows the public to climb to the observation platform 44 feet above ground. A gorgeous view of Lake Winnebago and the nearby harbor awaits you. The grounds surrounding the lighthouse are neatly landscaped and colorful. Tours are self-guided.

Lake Michigan

Eagle Bluff

Scenic Door County boasts 11 lighthouses, one of the highest concentrations of lighthouses in any United States county. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, built in 1868, is located in Peninsula State Park. Much of the history of this lighthouse is a biography of the William and Julia Davenport Duclon family. The couple tended the lighthouse for 35 years, raising seven children, all boys! Eagle Bluff was one of the first lighthouses in the United States to be completely restored and opened to the public and is now a museum. Renovated and furnished by the Door County Historical Society, the lighthouse appears the same as it would have in the late 1800s. Being one of the best docent-led guided lighthouse tours in Wisconsin, visitors are offered a glimpse into a bygone era. The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse Museum is open mid-May through October.

Cana Island

Visiting the Cana Island Lighthouse is like a journey back in time. A titan among Wisconsin lights, Cana Island is the most distinctive of Door County’s scenic sentinels. First lit in 1869, Cana Island stands 86 feet tall and has guided mariners around its rocky shores for nearly a century and a half. Cana’s history includes the day-to-day life of many keepers and assistants, stormy weather and shipwrecks. The lighthouse features the oldest original French-made Fresnel lens still operating in Wisconsin. Discover the long, fabled history of this iconic lighthouse that is managed by Door County in partnership with the Door County Maritime Museum. Open May through October, climbing Cana’s tower is a must. The Door County Maritime Museum also sponsors a Lighthouse Festival in mid-June.

Old Port Washington

Lighthouses have been a part of Port Washington’s history since the 1840s. The Old Port Washington Light Station dates to 1860, perched more than 130 feet above Lake Michigan atop St. Mary’s bluff. Captain Charles Lewis, his wife Mariah Prosser Lewis and their son also named Charles, served here for more than 40 years. Wonderfully restored by the Port Washington Historical Society, the Old Port Washington Lighthouse is another must-see nautical museum. Depicting life at the lighthouse in the 19th century, Old Port Washington is open seasonally with volunteer-led tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, May through October.

North Point Milwaukee

Nestled in beautiful Lake Park, North Point Lighthouse was part of legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s grand design for this urban park. North Point rests far atop a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, making it one of the highest lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Beginning in 1855, three different lighthouses have been located here. Distinguished keepers included Georgia Green Stebbins, who came to Milwaukee as a sickly young woman. Transformed by fresh air and hard work into a dedicated keeper, she served with distinction for over 30 years. Abandoned for many years, North Point has had a renaissance. The North Point Lighthouse Friends ensure that this historic 74-foot beacon is preserved. Public tours and tower climbing are available on weekends.

Lifelong residents of Milwaukee, Ken and Barb Wardius travel nationally to pursue their hobbies of photography, history, hiking, bird study, and lighthouses, which first drew their interest at Door County’s picturesque Cana Island. Along with Wisconsin Lighthouses, Barb and Ken are the authors of Cana Island Lighthouse, Wind Point Lighthouse, and North Point Milwaukee Lighthouse. They are sought after lighthouse lecturers and belong to many organizations dedicated to lighthouse preservation.To learn more about Wisconsin lighthouses visit the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse Museum, Port Washington Historical Society and the North Point Lighthouse Friends websites.

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