|Cana Island Lighthouse||Seeing The Light|
Congress appropriated funds for construction the spring of 1869 and a crew immediately undertook the task of clearing a three-acre station site. Leveling a rock foundation, a buff-colored cream city brick tower began to take shape. Eighteen feet in diameter at the base, the tower rose sixty-five feet, gently tapering to a diameter of sixteen feet at its' uppermost. A forty-two foot by twenty-foot keepers dwelling was constructed beside the tower attached to the tower by a ten-foot covered walkway, designed to help shield the keepers from the elements when tending the light. Spiraling within the tower is a gracefully spiraling set of cast iron stairs, with 102 stairs.
The cast iron lantern atop the tower was likely prefabricated at the Milwaukee Lighthouse Depot and transported to the site by Lighthouse tender. Equipped with a Third Order Fresnel lens with the focal center of the lens situated approximately seventy-five feet above the tower bottom, the lens boasted a focal plane of eighty-two feet above mean lake level.
The station's first keeper, William Jackson displayed the light for the first time on the evening of January 24, 1870.
By virtue of its location, Cana Island is particularly vulnerable to severe storms. The station was subject to a number of severe storms in the 1870's and 80's, flooding the area around the station. During the infamous Alpena Gale of October 1880, the seas were so bad that waves swept through the house. To help solve the flooding problem, the Lighthouse Board filled almost an acre of land around the station.
The combination of wind driven-water and the soft cream city brick caused a rapid deterioration in the condition of the tower's brick exterior. In 1902, the entire exterior of the tower was encased in steel plates to prevent further degradation. Thereafter, the tower was given a coat of white paint, the color that remains to this day.
In a pea soup fog on the afternoon of October 8, 1928 the three hundred and fifty-two-foot steamer Bartelme ran aground on the south side of Cana Island. Pounded by wave action, her bottom plates ripped apart, hopes of her ever being re-floated dimmed.
Representatives of the T. L. Durocher Wrecking Company of Detour, Mich., arrived at the wreck with the tug General to survey the wreck's salvage potential. Determining the costs of salvage to likely be higher than the worth of the spoils, it appeared that the Bartelme was destined to rot in place.
The wreck was obviously of some interest to local residents. On October 12 1928, the Door County Advocate reported that the island "was the destination of nearly 200 automobiles last Sunday and Keeper Sanderson scarcely had parking space for the large number of cars that gathered there during certain hours of the day."
In 1930, the tug Lotus arrived at the wreck, and removed the boilers, fitting and other valuables, towing them to the Leathem D. Smith shipyard in two lighters, but leaving the hill carcass laying on the island.
Finally, in the September 14, 1933 issue of the Door County Advocate it was reported that "John Mandarich and Fred Riefschnider of Milwaukee came this week to look after the contract, which they have for removal of the steel from the old freighter. The gentlemen stated that they have sixteen men engaged in cutting the steel at the present time, removing the plates in 6 x 18 strips, which will be loaded on barges and towed to Sturgeon Bay and load here aboard a freight for shipment to Cleveland, Ohio."
Thus, almost exactly five years after the steamer ran aground, she left Cana Island in pieces, and giving the island back to the keepers.
After automation in 1945, the Cana Island station no longer received the constant care of its' keeper, and the station sadly deteriorated. The Door County Maritime Museum leased the property in the 1970's in order to preserve this important part of Door County's maritime heritage, and opened the island to the public.
Now illuminated by a 500-watt electric
lamp, the Third Order Fresnel still casts its' light eighteen miles into
the darkness, warning and guiding mariners as it has in three centuries.