With the industrial revolution taking place in Chicago in the mid to late 1800s, navigating to the Chicago Harbor became a challenge. So thick was the smoke from the surrounding factories, that the lighthouses of the area were barely visible. At this time, the Lighthouse Board recommended that Chicago's northern marker be placed thirteen miles to the north in nearby Evanston on a point dubbed Grosse Pointe (Great Point) by French Explorers. Construction of the Grosse Point Lighthouse was completed in 1873, but wasn't lit until March 1, 1874.
The tower was constructed of cream city brick and stands 113 feet high. Sitting atop the tower in the lantern room was a massive second order Fresnel lens. The Grosse Point Lighthouse was one of only five lighthouses on the Great Lakes to have a second order Fresnel lens. No Great Lakes lighthouse has ever had a first order Fresnel lens. To this date, the tower still has the original lens installed. The light would have a dual purpose, to warn of shallow waters around Grosse Point and to guide ships into the harbor at Chicago. Barring fog, etc, the light was visible 21 miles out into the lake.
From the time the tower was put into service, it was a choice location among keepers due to its proximity to Chicago. There was none of the typical isolation that usually goes along with the job. The tower even had an enclosed walkway to shelter the keeper on duty while walking from the duplex to the tower. At its height of operation, it took three keepers and a day laborer to successfully run the lighthouse.
In 1880, two fog signal buildings were constructed at the back of the property. They utilized boilers to drive steam sirens. One would stand as a backup in case of failure while the other would be used during inclement weather. By 1892, the fog signal apparatus was upgraded to 10" locomotive style steam whistles, which were much louder than the originals they replaced.
By 1900, the area around the lighthouse started to fill in. This was the result of people wanting to live outside of the hustle and bustle of Chicago. Neighbors began complaining about the noise of the fog signals. In order to help restore the peace, the Lighthouse Board installed deflectors which would absorb sound landward while deflecting it towards the lake.
The brick used in the tower's construction had started to deteriorate by 1914. The Lighthouse Board had recommended coating the entire tower in four inches of concrete rather than the costlier option of encasing the tower in steel plates which was done at other stations.
Other updates to the tower included upgrading the lighting system from kerosene to incandescent oil vapor in 1910, and finally to electricity in 1923. Since this lightened the work load, the station was downsized to two keepers. The lighthouse was finally automated in 1934. It would remain lit until 1941, when it was extinguished under the National Air Raid Protection Plan during WWII. In 1945, the light station was turned over to the City of Evanston to be preserved as a landmark. It was relit on February 9, 1946 as a private aid to navigation. To this day, the lighthouse is open during limited hours for guided tours.
Directions: From I-94 north of Chicago, exit at 34A (US-41 / Skokie Road). Follow US-41 / Skokie Road south to Old Glenview Road. Take Old Glenview Road east to Crawford Ave. Follow Crawford Ave. south to Central Street. Take Central Street east to Sheridan Road. The lighthouse is at this intersection.
For more information, please visit their website at http://www.grossepointlighthouse.net.
Accesss: The tower is owned by the City of Evanston. The grounds are open for walking. The tower is open during scheduled tours.View more Grosse Point Lighthouse pictures