Lights have marked the entrance to Chicago Harbor and the Chicago River as early as 1832. Originally, the first tower was constructed on land, piers would later appear to try and control sand bars that would show up with a northeasterly gale. By 1847, the piers jutted out 3900 feet into Lake Michigan to form a harbor. To help mariners navigate into and out of the harbor, pier lights were constructed.
Several wooden pier lights would mark the entrance for several years before a newer tower was put into service in 1859. This tower was made of prefabricated cast iron pieces that could be assembled on site. It consisted of a steel skeleton to hold up the lantern room.
Chicago continued to grow, more and more factories were popping up. So much so, that smoke from the factories were obscuring the lights. The Lighthouse Board had constructed a new landfall light (Grosse Point Lighthouse) for the City of Chicago 13 miles to the north in Evanston. Although this new light to the north would be the primary landfall light for the Chicago Harbor, the 1859 pierhead light remained in service.
1859 Chicago Pierhead Lighthouse
A new lighthouse to mark the Chicago Harbor was constructed near the mouth of the Chicago River in 1893. This new lighthouse (shown above) sealed the fate of the 1859 pierhead lighthouse. Due to its construction technique, it was disassembled, and moved to Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Here it renovated, heightened, and became the Rawley Point Lighthouse.
As ships arriving in the Chicago Harbor became larger, difficulties in navigating down the Chicago River ensued. This led officials to develop the outer harbor. This was an area of Lake Michigan that was enclosed with a protective break wall near the mouth of the Chicago River. A municipal pier was completed in 1916 to handle the loading and unloading of these larger ships. It is known today as Navy Pier. To finish off this new outer harbor, the 1893 Chicago Lighthouse was moved to concrete foundation at the end of the north pier to become the Chicago Harbor Light.
When the tower was moved, two support buildings were integrated into it. One side housed a fog signal whereas the other side housed a boat house. At the height of Chicago Harbor, the lighthouse accommodated four keepers that were responsible for all navigational aids in the harbor. The tower was automated in 1979.
Directions: The lighthouse sits offshore on a breakwall, which is detached from the mainland. The best way to view the lighthouse is from the end of Navy Pier in Downtown Chicao, or from one of the many harbor cruises. Also look for the Chicago Southeast Guidewall Lighthouse located near the harbor.
Access: The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Tower closed.View more Chicago Harbor Lighthouse pictures