Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center News
A Light in the Fog: Sturgeon Bay’s Famous Lighthouses!
Imagine sailing on Lake Michigan in the days before radar, GPS, or smartphones. Fog has rolled in and you are no longer sure of your bearings. But what you do know is that the rocky shoreline is out there—somewhere. As the fog socks in around you, all sense of direction vanishes. Panic tightens in your throat. Suddenly a tiny point of light appears through the gloom. Then the soulful note of the foghorn sounds across the water. Relieved, you follow the welcoming light and the fog signal safely back into port.
This was the reality for the early mariners who sailed on Lake Michigan and in the Green Bay waters. While those days have passed, the lighthouses remain not only as historic symbols of guidance and safe passage, but as constant sentinels of the sea.
Sturgeon Bay, Door County is home to three lighthouses with a rich maritime history, Sherwood Point, and the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse and North Pierhead Light. If you’ve always wondered what life as a lighthouse keeper was like, or would love to see the view from a lighthouse tower, plan now for the highly anticipated Lighthouse Festival next June 6-8, 2014. The Door County Maritime Museum offers 14 lighthouse tours throughout Door County, including the Sherwood Point and the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouses.
Sherwood Point was the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes. The 35 foot high lighthouse was constructed in 1883, and was tied to the building of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. Sherwood Point is the only Door County lighthouse made with red brick instead of the more traditional limestone or cream-colored brick. In 1892, a fog signal was added in front of the light tower, with a bell that rang every 12 seconds during foggy weather. Residents up to twelve miles away knew when it was foggy at the station!
The Coast Guard took over operation of the Sturgeon Bay lighthouses in 1941, and manned the Sherwood Point tower until 1983, when the light was automated. The original house is now used as a private retreat for military families, but the grounds are open to the public during the Lighthouse Walk in June.
The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Light and the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal North Pierhead Light are located on an active Coast Guard station on the Lake Michigan entrance to the ship canal. The first lighthouse, the Canal Station Lighthouse, was built in 1882. There wasn’t enough money for a keeper’s dwelling, so the first keeper, Rufus M. Wright, had to sleep on a dredge working on the canal. By 1886, two fog signals had been built in separate buildings, as well as a small house for the keeper.
As use of the canal got underway, Maritimers were already lobbying for a second, more powerful light near the entrance to the canal. This lighthouse featured a new design using a steel cylinder that saved construction time and used less material. The lantern room featured a circular design and glass that was custom manufactured in France. However, the structure of the lighthouse was poor, and problems with vibrations when in use led to extensive revisions to the original structure in 1903. In addition to the structural renovations, the Lighthouse Board updated to the current combined steel fog signal and light tower. Originally painted white, the now-distinctive red color of the North Pierhead Light building is an iconic symbol of Sturgeon Bay and its rich maritime history. The station is located at the end of Canal Road; parking is available, but visitation is limited to a walkway leading past the tower light to the break wall.
The lighthouses in Sturgeon Bay and throughout Door County are worth a trip anytime of the year. But start planning next year's summer getaway for the first weekend in June to take advantage of the Lighthouse Festival. The tickets go on sale in March 2014, so mark your calendar and make your reservations now. You may want to plan ahead for the trip up the stairs as well!
Interested in learning more about the lighthouses of Door County? Visit this resource: