Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse

Manitowoc, Wisconsin - 1918 (1840**)

Photo of the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse.

History of the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-02-21.

The first light to be built in Manitowoc was actually built on higher ground above the river. This light served to mark the entrance to the harbor from 1839 to 1877. In 1850, a tower was built at the end of the north pierhead to provide additional guidance to vessels. This light was deemed adequate enough that in 1877, the original 1839 tower was extinguished. By 1895, it was demolished to make way for a new keeper's duplex.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Manitowoc Breakwater LighthouseLighthouse showing elevated catwalk (Courtesy C.G.)

In November of 1895, a new tower / fog signal complex was constructed on the north breakwater. This building was constructed of wood, but encased in cast iron to stand up against the lake. The only access to the tower at the time was via boat since no catwalk was ever constructed. Therefore it was common for keepers to get stuck there while waiting out a storm.

This tower served until 1918 when it was replaced by a steel tower which stands on a concrete base. When completed, the tower was originally a reddish color before being painted its present day color of white. Like most Great Lakes style breakwater lighthouses, the first floor housed all of the fog signal equipment, while the second story would be the watch room. The tower, when first lit, utilized a fourth order Fresnel lens before being downgraded to a fifth order lens. It also had an elevated catwalk, which led back to shore where the keeper's duplex was located.

Manitowoc, Wisconsin is the western terminus of the Lake Michigan Ferry system, after being moved from Kewaunee, Wisconsin further north. Originally, it was rail cars that were ferried back and forth across Lake Michigan to Ludington, Michigan. Now it is all auto traffic that occupies the space aboard the ferry.

In 2009, the federal government deemed the lighthouse as excess property. Under the National Lighthouse Historic Preservation Act, it was offered for free to non-profits and other government agencies. However, no such entity came forward to claim the property. At that time, it was auctioned off to the general public. From what I have read, the winning bid was $30,000 from an individual from Melville, NY.


  1. Wisconsin Lighthouses: A Photographic & Historical Guide, Ken & Barb Wardius, 2003.
  2. Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia, Larry & Patricia Wright, 2011.
  3. Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: Your Ultimate Guide to the Region's Historic Lighthouses, Todd R. Berger and Daniel E. Dempster, 2002.

Directions: The best place I found for viewing this lighthouse is from a park on Maritime Drive in Downtown Manitowoc. Walk out onto the breakwater for a closer view.

Access: Grounds open. Tower closed.

View more Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 40.00'
Focal Plane: 52'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 44.09200 N
*Longitude: -87.64300 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.