Port Washington Pierhead Light Seeing The Light

Port Washington, Wisconsin Home Back

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Historical Information

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In 1889, the first pier head light was built at Port Washington. Constructed of wood and accessed by a wooden catwalk, it was situated at the end of the North Pier. Unlike many Great Lakes lights, Port Washington stayed open all year whenever possible, as it was home to an active fishing fleet, and local package boats continued to ply the waters as long as ice conditions allowed.

Click to view enlarged imageThe current $625,000 pier was one of only two maritime WPA projects approved in 1931, and took over 3 years to complete. Not part of the original appropriation, Congress approved the construction of a new pier head light in 1934. Constructed in what is considered the "Art Deco" style at a cost of $35,000, the light features a huge concrete base to provide increased elevation. Also, the uniquely arched base of the structure provides mariners with an improved view of the surroundings, allowing for safer passage. The original black lantern room contained a Fourth Order Fresnel lens, which exhibited a red light which flashed every 7.7 seconds. At some point in time the lantern room and lens were removed and replaced with a modern solar-powered beacon and foghorn.

The south pier is the property of Wisconsin Electric Power Company, although the starboard light is maintained by the Coast Guard. This pier and the power plant was built simultaneously with the federal pier project, another boon for the citizens during the Depression.

Keepers of this Light

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

Seeing this Light

The Port Washington pier is one of the longest we have walked, and as a result of the warm temperature and light breeze, a number of other strollers accompanied us on our walk to the light. While the lake was calm on the day we visited Port Washington, large masses of dried seaweed on the pier close to shore served as mute witness to the size of the seas that had been rolling over the pier in the days before our arrival.

The narrow pier opens up to a large pad beneath the light, and the riveted steel tower  sits atop large graceful semicircular concrete arches above this pad. The space below these arches provides welcome shade, and in combination with the offshore breeze, many people take advantage of the cool shelter that they provide.

On the walk back along the pier from the tower, we became aware of a group of three Amphicars which were motoring around in the calm of the harbor. Without a great deal of freeboard, these antique oddities would surely be quickly swamped if they ventured out into the waves beyond the breakwater.

Finding this Light

From I-43, take Hwy 33 east into Port Washington. Turn North on Wisconsin Street, and continue four blocks to Jackson Street. Turn East on Jackson and continue to Lake Street. Take a left turn on Pier Street, and choose a parking space from the many parking areas located around the marina.

Reference Sources

Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994 
USCG Historians office, Photographic archives.
Wisconsin Lighthouses, A photographic & Historical Guide, Ken & Barb Wardius, 2000
Ozaukee County Historical places. Port Washington Light, website
Personal observation at Port Washington, 09/09/2000.
Photographs from author's personal collection.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

Click to view Port Washington weather conditions

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This page last modified 12/07/2003