History, Beauty and Architecture: Worth-the-Drive Lighthouses

Posted on June 30, 2023 by Grace Olson

There are typically two kinds of road trips to embark on: the simply for fun/stop when you want and “we’ll see what happens,” type; and then there’s the dedicated, “we need to see all of x, y, z!”

Of course there’s more than room for both this summer, and combining the two to explore the history, beauty and architecture of lighthouses (including the most photographed in the state!) is a great start. We’re lucky that our neighbors to the north provide a perfect avenue to do so.

“Door County has more lighthouses per mile of shoreline than any county in the U.S.! So if you’ve ever wanted to see and explore a lighthouse, Door County has options,” Paige Funkhouser, Community Engagement Manager, Door County Maritime Museum (DCMM), says. “Each lighthouse is unique in the context of its geographic location, architectural style and history. One of the missions of the Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society, Inc. has been to preserve, maintain, and act as stewards for the county’s lighthouses, and we do it gladly to benefit citizens from the U.S. and around the world.”

The *30th Annual Door County Lighthouse Festival happens this fall—it also happens each spring—from September 29 to October 1, and encompasses several well-known lighthouses in the area. The festival serves as a fundraising weekend for the museum.

“These historic navigational beacons are a symbol of American history worth preserving through events like the Lighthouse Festivals, as representations of a chapter in American history when maritime traffic was the lifeblood of our nation, connecting isolated towns and distant ports through trade,” Funkhouser explains.

“These fundraising festival weekends include air, land-based, boat and adventure tours to provide access to visitors to all eleven of Door County’s historic lighthouses, and three of our neighbors to the south. Seeing the lighthouses surrounded by Door County’s fall colors is an unmatched view!”

*Cana Island Lighthouse, Baileys Harbor
Established: 1869

Luke Collins Photography

Boasting an 89-foot white tower and touted as the most photographed lighthouse in Wisconsin, Cana Island Lighthouse is impressive to say the least. Still an active beacon, it embodies the majestic and quintessential looks of what people think when they hear “lighthouse.”
Cana Island is open May through October, seven days a week, 10 am-5 pm. The last hay wagon ride departs from the parking lot at 4:15 pm. The last tower climb starts at 4:30 pm. Check the Cana Island Lighthouse Facebook page for daily updates and information on any weather-related closures.

*Chambers Island Lighthouse, Fish Creek
Established: 1868

“Chambers Island Lighthouse is also open for guided tours, with an exclusive boat tour to the island,” Funkhouser says. “The island is mainly private residences, thus public boat tours do not visit the island outside of Lighthouse Festivals. The Sturgeon Bay Canal Station allows visitors to get close and walk around the lighttower during the Festivals, an act not allowed at other times, as the Station is an active duty Coast Guard station. DCMM works with our boat, airplane, and land-based tour operators to offer exclusive lighthouse-themed tours they don’t offer any other time of year.”

Fond du Lac Lighthouse, Fond du Lac
Established: 1933

Climb this 40-foot tall working lighthouse for a spectacular view of Lake Winnebago and Lakeside Park. The city’s signature attraction and most-photographed structure in town. Built in 1933 during the Great Depression, the bottom 10 feet of the eight-sided lighthouse consists of a flagstone-covered base, while the upper section of the tower is of frame construction. A wooden staircase, attached to the interior walls of the lighthouse, winds up through the tower permitting visitors to reach the observation deck, with an excellent view of Lakeside Park and Lake Winnebago.

Port Washington Breakwater Light, Port Washington
Established: 1849

Port Washington boasts both a lighthouse and a light station. The city’s art deco lighthouse, located at the end of the harbor breakwater, was built in 1935. While not open for tours, it is a magnificent photo opportunity. Ashore, the historic 1860 light station has been entirely restored and is open seasonally for tours. Its tower and lantern room, destroyed in 1934, have been rebuilt. The first floor has been refurbished, reflecting the decor of the Lewis family, lightkeepers from 1874-1934. The station also houses the local historical society museum.

*Sherwood Point Lighthouse, Sturgeon Bay
Established: 1883

“For the Lighthouse Festivals only, Sherwood Point Lighthouse is open for visitors,” Funkhouser explains. “This lighthouse is unique even within Door County, as it still hosts the original fog signal building. Sherwood Point lightstation is operated by the USCG and rented as a vacation home for active duty military and veterans.”
Built in 1883 and automated 100 years later in 1983, Sherwood Point Lighthouse was the last lighthouse to be automated on the Great Lakes. The lighthouse, which is still an active navigation aide, and its grounds are closed to the public, but the lighthouse can be seen from across the water at Olde Stone Quarry County Park. There are some boat tours operating out of Sturgeon Bay which take visitors up close for viewing and photography from mid-May to mid-October.

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Worth the Drive

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