Port Washington Lighthouse

Port Washington, Wisconsin - 1860 (1849**)

Photo of the Port Washington Lighthouse.

History of the Port Washington Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-02-22.

The first Port Washington lighthouse was a conical tower constructed of Cream City brick dates back to 1848. It stood atop of St. Mary's Hill on the north side of the harbor. This is vastly different than the 1860 Port Washington Lighthouse that stands today. The 1860 lighthouse is still made of Cream City brick, but is more "house-like" given that the lantern room rises out of the roof of the two story house. It originally housed a fourth order Fresnel lens. Similar style towers were built in Michigan City, Indiana and Grand Traverse, Michigan.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Port Washington Pierhead Light1889 Pierhead Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)

With the creation of a pair of piers extending out from the mouth of the Sauk River into the lake, the federal government created the first artificial harbor on the Great Lakes. In 1889, a pierhead light was constructed at the end of the north pier. The keeper was responsible for both the 1860 tower as well as the pierhead light.

Although the pierhead light utilized an elevated catwalk to access the tower, it was still some distance away from the main harbor light. In 1903, the north pierhead was deemed adequate enough to handle lighting duties for the harbor, and the 1860 tower was extinguished. The lighthouse was still used as the keeper's residence for the pierhead light.

Given the tower was no longer used as a lighthouse; the lantern room was removed in 1934. At this time, the house was split to provide residences for both the head keeper and the assistant, as he was living off site prior to this. Construction was also started on a new generator building which would house the electric generators which would power the new Port Washington Breakwater Lighthouse via a submarine cable.

Once the new 1934 Breakwater Lighthouse was completed, the 1860 lighthouse continued to be housing for the keepers. Once the Breakwater lighthouse was automated in the 1970s, the Coast Guard continued to use the tower as housing for personnel stationed in Port Washington. This post was eliminated in 1992. The current owner of the property is the City of Port Washington under oversight from the National Park Service.

In 2000, the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg visited the area, and due to the large number of emigrants in the area, wanted to make a contribution. With this, he offered to build the replacement lantern room and tower as a memorial to the U.S. Servicemen who fought on behalf of the Grand Duchy during World War II. These were constructed in Luxemburg, and the shipped along with skilled craftsmen to install the pieces. The tower and lantern room were installed in 2001, with a dedication following in 2002. Currently, the station has been restored to the period and is open to the public.


  1. Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia, Larry & Patricia Wright, 2011.
  2. Wisconsin Lighthouses: A Photographic & Historical Guide, Ken & Barb Wardius, 2003.
  3. Lighthouses of Lake Michigan: Past and Present, Wayne S. Sapulski, 2001.

Directions: The lighthouse stands at the corners of North Johnson and North Powers Streets in Port Washington.

Access: Grounds open. Tower open for scheduled tours.

View more Port Washington Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 40.00'
Focal Plane: 113'
Active Aid to Navigation: Deactivated (1903)
*Latitude: 43.39100 N
*Longitude: -87.86700 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.