Buffington Breakwater Lighthouse

East Chicago, Indiana - 1926 (1926**)

Photo of the Buffington Breakwater Lighthouse.

History of the Buffington Breakwater Lighthouse

Given the City of Chicago was continuing to grow around the turn of the century, many companies eyed the land further south of Chicago in Lake County, Indiana, which was mostly swampland and sand dunes. The companies chose the area for "nuisance industries" such as steel and oil refining due to the proximity to Chicago, but with so few inhabitants in the area, no one complained when the big companies moved in and started buying big tracts of land. One of the first companies to move in was the Standard Oil Company in 1889, followed by Inland Steel in 1901, and the United States Steel Corporation in 1905.

This rapid industrialization of Chicago and the surrounding areas led to the creation of a port in Chicago in 1847. Then work started farther south with the creation of the Calumet Harbor in 1870, Indiana Harbor in 1903, and finally the Gary Harbor in 1906. It would be almost two decades before the Buffington Harbor would be created in 1925 by a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation, the Portland Atlas Cement Company.

The main ingredients in Portland cement are slag and limestone. Since the steel industry had a major presence in the South Chicago area, slag, which is a by-product of steel production, was in abundance. Limestone was also in abundance in several areas around the Great Lakes and could be easily brought in by freighter. These facts made the area ripe for a cement factory. The area's first plant was constructed in 1903 by the Cement Department of Illinois Steel Company. By 1906, The Illinois Steel Company had spun off the cement group to its own division called the Universal Portland Cement Company which had taken over operations. The Universal Portland Cement Company continued to expand due to increased demand for the product.

The increased demand led to the creation of a private port on the grounds of the Buffington Plant in the spring of 1925. The port was located about two and one-half miles south of the Indiana Harbor and four and one-half miles north of the harbor at Gary. When completed, the harbor encompassed about fifty-six acres, marked by a 1,800 foot long concrete dock to enclose it. A 1,200 foot long breakwater made of rubble-stone was placed across the mouth to protect it from the open lake. The sand dredged from the harbor, making it one of the deepest private ports on the Great Lakes, was used to create a thirty acre limestone storage area.

To mark the entrance to this port, the United States Lighthouse Service approved the construction of a concrete lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. The tower would be fifty-five tall and topped by a 4,000 candle power light which was visible for fourteen miles into the lake. Also installed at that time was a fog signal that would sound a one second blast every nine seconds. The port officially opened on June 9, 1927.

The year 1930 would see the Universal Portland Cement Company merge with the Atlas Cement Company forming the Universal Atlas Cement Company. Lehigh Cement Company would later acquire the Universal Atlas Cement Company in 1980. They would only own it for fifteen years before selling a portion of the property to two entrepreneurs who would create a casino on the shore of Lake Michigan. The two entrepreneurs were Don Barden of Majestic Star LLC and Donald Trump which each opened up a casino boat at a shared dockside facility in June of 1996. By 2005, Majestic Star LLC had purchased Trump's assets at Buffington Harbor, which included the casino boat, and his hotel, both of which were renamed with the Majestic Star brand. To date, the lighthouse still sits in a neglected state.

Directions: The best place to photograph this lighthouse is from the top floor of the Majestic Star Casino parking garage. Follow the signs from Indiana Route 912 to the casino.

View more Buffington Breakwater Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 55.00'
Focal Plane: 48'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 41.64600 N
*Longitude: -87.40900 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.