Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse Seeing The Light

Kewaunee, Wisconsin Home Back

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Historical Information

Kewaunee had high hopes of rivaling Chicago as Lake Michigan's supreme port city in the middle 1800's, and as a result set about harbor improvements and a construction binge after rumors of a gold strike in the area brought droves of immigrants to the area hoping to strike it rich.

With the the construction of the piers and dredging of the river at Kewaunee in 1892, a pair of range lights were installed on the pier in 1891. In the standard Lake Michigan pier light manner, access to these two lights was provided by an elevated catwalk. Equipped with Fifth Order Fresnel lenses, the lights were designed to be visible for a distance of fifteen miles. 

Frequently subjected to thick blankets of fog, a diaphone fog signal horn was installed in the front range light in 1909. Also at this time, a large fog signal building was constructed immediately behind the front range light to contain the steam power plant for the fog signal, and to provide housing for the keepers when long periods of fog required their constant presence. This structure was connected to the front range light by way of an enclosed walkway, as can be seen in the historical Coast Guard photograph to the right.

The front range light was removed from the pier in 1931, when a new tower with a forty-five foot focal plane was constructed on the roof of the fog signal building, and the old lantern room and lens moved onto the new tower. As can be seen from the image to the left, the catwalk was still in place for some period of time after the construction of the new fog signal, however it has been removed at some time over the years

Though it is now illuminated by an automated electric four-bulb changer, the old Fifth Order Fresnel still displays its' fixed white light from this new tower. The diaphone fog signal originally installed here at Kewaunee was removed from the tower, and slated for shipment to the Smithsonian institute, when Duluth's TOOT organization learned of its fate and managed to convince the authorities to divert the unit to Duluth, where it was rebuilt by Jeff Laser and installed it in the South Breakwater Light, where it proudly works its magic in thick weather to this day.

In retrospect, Kewaunee's aspirations to rival Chicago were short-lived. With it's improved rail connections, Manitowoc assumed pre-eminence as Wisconsin's major northern port, and Kewaunee itself deteriorated from it intended brilliance.

Keepers of this Light

Click Here to see a complete listing of all Kewaunee Pierhead Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing this Light

From Highway 42, which runs north/south through Kewaunee, turn east onto Ellis Street. Take Ellis street almost to its' end, and you will find the Kewaunee Police department is the last building on the left. To the west of the police station is a driveway which opens-up to a gravel parking area to the rear of the station. Take this driveway, park behind the station, and walk the pier which is located to the immediate east of the parking area.

Reference sources

Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994.
Photographs from author's personal collection.
Wisconsin Lighthouses, A photographic & Historical Guide, Ken & Barb Wardius, 2000
Wisconsin Handbook, Thomas Huhti, 1997
Personal observation at Kewaunee, 09/10/2000.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

Terry Pepper. This page last updated 12/02/2007 .

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This page last modified 12/02/2007