Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2007-08-30.
When it became clear that the traffic on the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal was going to increase, mariners began pushing for additional navigational aids. Congress approved $12,000 for a light to assist mariners entering the canal from Green Bay in 1881. Plans were drawn up, and construction was slated for 1882, but it took longer to get a clear title to the land, and therefore did not start until May of 1883. Those same plans would be used in 1884 for the lighthouse at Little Traverse in Michigan.
The Lighthouse Board sent a construction crew and building supplies from the Depot in Detroit. The crews offloaded supplies and got started with clearing the land and blasting rock for a good foundation. After that was completed, masons got to work on constructing the one and one-half-story dwelling. Once the dwelling was completed, the ten-sided cast iron lantern room topped off the tower. This tower was unique in that it was not made out of Milwaukee cream brick like most of the other lighthouses in this area; it was made out of red bricks. The reason for this was that the Lighthouse Board sent the bricks from Detroit instead of sourcing them locally.
Sherwood Point Archive Photo
By the end of September 1883, the tower was completed and Henry Stanley would be the first Head Keeper of the lighthouse. Henry received a transfer order from the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse several miles to the north and would first display the light on the night of October 10. Sherwood Point would display a fixed white light with an alternating red flash every minute, which was visible for up to 15 miles.
Minnie Hesh, a native of Brooklyn, NY came to visit her uncle, Keeper Henry Stanly after her parents passed away in 1884. She liked the area so much that she ended up staying and by 1889, she was married a Sturgeon Bay local named William Cochems. In 1894, William became assistant keeper to Henry, and named head keeper after Henry's death on October 13, 1895.
Minnie continued to live William at lighthouse for many years before being appointed assistant keeper in 1898 when Keeper Stanley's wife finally retired. In 1928, she suffered an apparent heart attack at the lighthouse and died. William created a memorial that is still on-site at the lighthouse. It is a stone birdbath with a plaque inscribed with the following: "In nemory of Minnie Hesh Cochems / Assistant Light-Keeper 1898-1928." William Cochems retired from the service in 1933 having served almost 39 years at a single lighthouse. Conrad Stram would take over as head keeper being transferred from the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Light.
In 1892, the Lighthouse Board constructed a fog signal building directly in front of the lighthouse. The fog signal was a wooden, square, pyramidal building with a 600-pound bell hanging on the front. Inside the building was a striking mechanism that would strike the bell every 12 seconds. For this to happen, the keeper would have to wind the clockwork system every four hours.
The lighthouse housed a fourth order Fresnel lens and a complex clockwork system to display the red flash. Both keepers Henry and William often became frustrated with this clockwork system, which when it failed caused the red panels to stop rotating. Sometimes, Keeper Henry would even have to rotate the red panels by hand until morning when he could try to fix it, and at other times, he would have to pay a local clockmaker to come from Sturgeon Bay to repair the unit. In 1898, the Lighthouse Board finally decided to due away with the troublesome lens and rotating mechanism, instead installing an older fourth order Fresnel lens from the Passage Island Light in 1898.
Fuel for the light was like many of early lighthouses, lard oil. Eventually around the turn of the century, kerosene replaced the oil, and in 1902, an oil house was built on-site to house the kerosene. In April of 1917, the lighthouse was switched over to an incandescent oil vapor system, and eventually over to electricity in the 1930s.
In 1940, more efficient electric diaphones replaced the fog bell. With the bell striking mechanism being removed, the building would now house a radiobeacon and communications equipment. Constructed in 1966 on the back of the fog signal building, a radio room allowed the keeper to operate from a distance the fog signal at the Peshtigo Reef Light, which was put under his care. Eventually, all fog signal equipment would be removed from Sherwood Point.
The lighthouse remained manned by U.S. Coast Guard personnel until 1983 making it the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes. The fourth order Fresnel lens was removed in 2002 after it was badly deteriorated from the constant sunlight and donated to the Door County Maritime Museum where it was restored and put on display. Replacing it would be a 300mm optic that is still in use today.
The lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation and is private property of the Coast Guard, therefore, the lighthouse and grounds are not open to the public. However, they are open once a year during the Door County Lighthouse Walk, which is when I visited.
Note: The lighthouse is private property, please respect this and do not trespass.
Directions: From Highway 57 in Sturgeon Bay, take County Road S north to County Road C. Head west on County Road C. You will then head north on County Road M. Follow County Road M for almost 5 miles to Sherwood Point Road. Take Sherwood Point Road to the end. Please note that the grounds to the lighthouse are only open during the Door County Lighthouse Walk.
Access: Grounds and tower are typically open during Door County Lighthouse Walk.View more Sherwood Point Lighthouse pictures