Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2007-12-02.
Built out of Milwaukee cream brick, the Cana Island Lighthouse was to replace the original Baileys Harbor Lighthouse. The location of the lighthouse is at the end of a narrow peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan between North and Moonlight Bays. Due to this location, it regularly experiences major wind and heavy storms off Lake Michigan. The lake, at times, can rise enough to flood over the narrow causeway and the peninsula actually becomes an island.
Due to the storms, by the turn of the century, many of the bricks were failing. In 1902, the Lighthouse Board encased the tower in steel plates to stop the deterioration of the brick. After the plates were riveted together, cement filled the space in between. The plates were then painted white.
The one and a half story keeper's dwelling, also made out of Milwaukee cream brick, was set up to handle two families. The head keeper and his family would have lived on the first floor, and the assistant keeper and his family would have lived on the second floor. A covered passageway connects the residence to the tower that would have shielded the keepers from the weather.
The first keeper, William Jackson, lighted the light on the night of January 24, 1870 for the very first time. The lighthouse had a third order Fresnel lens, which is still in the tower today. The tower has used everything from whale oil, kerosene, acetylene, and finally electricity in 1945. Originally, an engine driven generator provided the electricity until a power line brought power to the peninsula in the 1960s. With the electricity in 1945 came automation, and the last civilian keeper left the lighthouse.
The Coast Guard still maintains the lighthouse as an active aid to navigation. The land, which is under lease by the Door County Maritime Museum, is working to preserve Door County's maritime heritage. Once a year during the Door County Lighthouse Walk, the tower is open for climbing. The Lighthouse Walk takes place the third weekend in May every year.
Partial list of lighthouse keepers:
- William Jackson (1869-1872)
- William Sanderson (1875-1891)
- Reinhart Pfiel (assistant) (1905-1909)
- Conrad A. Stram (1913-1918)
- Oscar R. Knudsen (1918-1924)
- Ross Wright (1932-1941)
- Michael Drezdon (assistant) (1933-1945)
- Land leased to the McCarthy family (1945-1970)
- Land leased to the Door County Maritime Museum (1970-present)
- Wisconsin Lighthouses: A Photographic & Historical Guide, Ken & Barb Wardius, 2003.
- Lighthouses of Lake Michigan: Past and Present, Wayne S. Sapulski, 2001.
- Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia, Larry & Patricia Wright, 2011.
- Western Great Lakes Lighthouses, Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones, 1996.
- Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: Your Ultimate Guide to the Region's Historic Lighthouses, Todd R. Berger and Daniel E. Dempster, 2002.
Directions: The lighthouse sits on an island, but it is connected by a stone causeway to the mainland. The lighthouse is located at the end of Cana Island Road which is just off County Route Q north of Baileys Harbor.
During the Door County Lighthouse Walk, there is no parking at the end of Cana Island Road. You must get a shuttle from Baileys Harbor due to the amount of people visiting the site at any given time.
Access: Grounds and tower open during season.
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