Peshtigo Reef Light Seeing The Light

Off Peshtigo Point, Green Bay Home Back

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Historical Information

While Peshtigo Point could easily be seen jutting into Green Bay to the east of the Peshtigo River entrance, what could not be seen was the treacherous reef which extended some three miles beyond the offshore end of the point. With depths of only one to six feet above its rocky bottom, Peshtigo Reef represented a serious threat to maritime interests making their way in and out of southern Green Bay.

Responding to the rapidly burgeoning maritime traffic in the area, the Lighthouse Board dispatched a special committee to Green Bay in 1865 to analyze the situation and recommend the best location for aids to navigation in the area. After touring the area and meeting with various maritime interests, the committee reported that lights were desperately needed on Chambers Island, Peshtigo Shoal and on Grassy Island at the mouth of the Fox River. Congress responded to the Board's subsequent recommendation on July 28, 1866 with an appropriation of $25,000 for the construction of the three light stations. However, with the completion of the Chambers Island station in 1867, the remainder of the appropriation was withdrawn, and the possibility of constructing lights on Peshtigo Reef was put on indefinite hold.

Without the necessary funds to construct a lighted station, the District Inspector was forced to seek alternate methods of marking the hazard, and to this end the perimeter of the reef closest to the river was marked with four spar buoys later that same year. In 1869, this arrangement was augmented with the construction of a daymark at the offshore end of the reef, consisting of a thirty foot square wooden crib surmounted with a wooden pyramidal structure topped by an iron cage. While these aids served the needs of daytime navigation, they were clearly of little use to mariners making their way through the area during the dark of night or in the thick fogs that frequently blanketed the area. Seeking to provide a more permanent solution to meet the ever increasing number of vessels making their way into the ports of Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay, the Lighthouse Board again recommended that the sum of $10,000 be appropriated for the construction of a light station and fog signal to mark the reef in its 1892 annual report.

While Congress affirmed the need for a light with the passage of an act approving the station's construction on February 15, 1893, they neglected to follow-up with the necessary appropriation. After reiterating its request for funds in its report the following year, the Board appears to have dropped the subject until 1898, when deciding that the winter ice which packed the area represented too great a threat to a permanent structure, they instead recommended that $15,000 be appropriated for the construction of a lightship to be placed on the reef. Congress turned a deaf ear to the request until June 28, 1902 when the necessary funds for the light vessel were finally appropriated.

Responding to the appropriation, the District Engineer in Milwaukee immediately drew-up plans and specifications for the vessel, and awarded a contract for its construction that same year. However, the after the contractor failed to commence work on the vessel within the allotted time period, the contract was rescinded and bids were again advertised in 1903. A new contract was awarded to the Johnson Boiler Company in Ferrysburg Michigan, with the vessel's keel being laid early in 1904.

Designated as LV77, the specifications called out a steel hulled vessel built in the "scow style." At 75 feet in length, with a beam of 21 feet 7 inches, she was to draw 9 feet 3 inches and displace 110 tons. With crew accommodations consisted of four staterooms, a head and galley, she was to be equipped with a hollow steel lantern mast around which a ring of three oil lens-lanterns could be raised and lowered from her main deck. To keep costs to a minimum she was designed without any propulsion system, and was thus to be towed on and off station by the lighthouse Dahlia or Hyacinth. To further reduce costs she was equipped with a hand-operated fog bell and on-board storage space to hold a years' supply of food and oil for the lanterns, so that she could remain on station for the entire navigation season without requiring re-supply.

Work on the vessel was completed late in 1905, and the contractors delivered her to her to her winter quarters in Sturgeon Bay in November of that same year. Too late to be placed on the reef, she was finally towed to her station on Peshtigo Reef, and her Master Peter Knudsen exhibited the vessels lanterns for the first time on the night of April 28, 1906. She remained on station without incident during each navigation season over the following five years until August 18, 1911 when to the joy of her crew she was towed into Sturgeon Bay for the installation of an air operated 8 inch chime whistle, and returned to her station on September 16.

By the 1930's, the constant pounding of the lake had taken its toll on the vessel, and seeking to further reduce ongoing costs of operation, the Lighthouse Service determined the combination of improvements in offshore construction techniques and improvements in electrical and mechanical systems would allow the construction of a virtually automated tight station on Peshtigo Reef.

In September 1934, a work party arrived at the offshore end of Peshtigo Reef to begin construction of a wooden crib to serve as the foundation of the new station. By the onslaught of winter, work on the crib was competed, and the work party abandoned the site to the ravages of winter. Returning in the spring of the following year, and finding the crib to be in satisfactory condition after its winter in the ice, work tuned to the construction of the pier atop the crib foundation.

Plans for the new pier were unique, taking advantage of recent advancements in design and steel technology. A fifty foot ring of sheet piling was first installed atop the crib to serve as the exterior form for the foundation pier. Within this outer ring, five six-foot diameter steel cylinders were placed, with a group of wooden piles driven into the center of each. All remaining spaces within the central cylinders and the outer ring were then filled with concrete to a level 8 feet six inches from the upper edge of the sheet piling. A solid slab of concrete was then poured atop the cylinders, and carefully floated and leveled to serve as the floor of the basement within the pier. Forms were then constructed on this floor to create a central machinery room and concentric storage areas within the pier and the top of the sheet piling was covered with a heavy slab of concrete to serve double-duty as both basement ceiling and as the pier's top deck.

With the completion of the pier, a temporary light and fog signal were established on the night of August 26, 1935, and no longer needed on the reef was removed from her station and towed into Sturgeon Bay. Subsequently, she was assigned to relief duty throughout the Great Lakes.

Work then turned to the circular steel structure 25 feet in diameter and 14 feet I height located on the center of the pier deck. While the station was designed to be semi automatic, and thus would not require full time keepers, this structure was divided into two rooms as living quarters in the event that keepers servicing the station from Sherwood Point lighthouse station became marooned during their service and supply trips. Centered on this main structure, a steel plate tower containing a cast iron spiral staircase supported a cast iron lantern with horizontal astragals housing a Fourth Order Fresnel lens. With the completion of work on the superstructure, everything above the crib deck was given a coat of cream-colored paint, with the exception of the lantern, which was painted black to help serve as a daymark against the sky.

The station obtained its power from a gasoline engine and 110-volt generator located in the basement machinery room. Hooked to a 110-volt storage battery, the battery was constantly maintained in a state of charge by the generator to serve as a backup in case of engine or generator failure. An electric bulb within the Fourth Order lens output 20,000 candlepower, and in combination with the station's 72-foot focal plane provided a sixteen mile range of visibility in clear weather. The station was also equipped with a 200 mm flashing white winter lens, which was activated every December 1st, and emitted a characteristic single half-second flash every five seconds.

The station's fog signal consisted of an air operated diaphragm powered by a compressor, also driven by the gasoline engine. While the light was controlled automatically, the fog signal was radio controlled by the keepers at the Sherwood Point Light station located eight miles to the southeast. Once activated from Sherwood Point, the fog signal would automatically emit its characteristic single two-second blast every 20 seconds. The station was also equipped with a solenoid operated fog bell which continuously struck one blow of the bell every 20 seconds regardless of the weather, in case a radio control system malfunction prevented the keepers from activating the diaphragm signal.

The work was completed, and the station first exhibited in June 1936. The Sherwood Point keepers serviced the light with a small wooden launch powered by a gasoline engine, and were responsible for ensuring that the equipment was functioning properly, and ensuring that the gasoline supply tanks in the crib were kept full.

After having faithfully served maritime interests throughout the district for thirty-five years, LV77 was retired from lighthouse duty at the end of the 1939 navigation season, and sold into private ownership in April of the following year.

At an as yet undetermined point in time, a submarine power cable was run to the station, and no longer needed, the gasoline engine and generators were shut down and removed from the crib. The fog signal was automated, and the Sherwood Point keeper's were relieved of responsibility for the offshore station. Also, at some time between 1962 and the present, the tower received a distinctive painted red horizontal band to increase its effectiveness as a daymark.

Over 65 years later, Peshtigo Reef Light still stands faithful guard over the reef, and while the volume of commercial maritime traffic making its way into the head of Green Bay has reduced significantly over the years, she still serves as a welcome beacon to the huge amount of pleasure craft which ply the waters of Green Bay.

Seeing this Light

Since this light is too far out in Green Bay to be seen well from shore, the only way to get a decent view of this light is by private or charter boat.

GPS Coordinates:  4457'22.66"N x 8734'45.31"W

Reference sources

Annual report of the Lighthouse Board, various
Door County Advocate newspaper, various
Ironwood Daily Globe newspaper, various
Annual report of the Lake Carriers Association, various
Oschkosh Daily Northwester newspaper, various
Great Lakes Light List, various
Lighships and Lightship Stations of the United States, Willard Flint, 1989

Copyright Terry Pepper. This page last modified 09-30-2012. 

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