|Waukegan Harbor, IL|
Description: Situated roughly midway between Chicago and Milwaukee, Waukegan started as a French trading post and Pottawatomie Indian settlement known as Little Fort. Its population grew from 150 people in 1844 to 2,500 in 1849, when the residents determined their town was no longer “little” and decided to change its name to Waukegan, a Pottawatomie word for trading post.
William B. Snowhook, Superintendent of lights at Chicago, described the harbor improvements underway at Waukegan in 1853 and the sorry state of the town’s four-year-old lighthouse.
At Waukegan a breakwater is in progress of construction, under the directions of the War Department. I would recommend that an iron light-house, on a suitable crib-work foundation filled with stone, be built at the north end, and connected with the breakwater now in progress of construction, where a light of some kind will, in my opinion, be absolutely necessary.
The cancellation of the breakwater light forced the Lighthouse Board to make improvements to the old 1849 lighthouse. In 1860, a wooden tower was built atop the keeper’s dwelling, and a new octagonal, cast-iron lantern was installed thereon. With this “new” lighthouse in place, the old brick tower was demolished. In 1868, new outbuildings were added to the station, and repairs to the dwelling’s roof were completed. The lighthouse lot was fenced in and the tower repainted in 1880.
John Williams, who lost an arm in the Battle of Gettysburg, was appointed keeper of Waukegan Lighthouse in 1865. He and his wife, Helen, raised seven children at the station. In February of 1892, one of these children, John C. Williams, wrote the inspector to inform him of his father’s passing. “He appointed me 17 years of age to take care of the light. I will do so until further notice by you. I have tended to the whole business since he was taken sick, two weeks ago today.”
Appropriations of $15,000 were made in both 1880 and 1881 to create a harbor at Waukegan. Knapp & Gillen of Racine signed a contract on June 27, 1881 and soon began work on two projecting piers to inclose a small basin and protect vessels while in port. Amazingly, this work took nearly two decades and over $200,000 to complete. The piers finally reached their full projected lengths in 1898, and on August 10, 1898 a temporary iron post light was established on the outer end of the north pier. This light was changed from fixed white to red in October, and on December 31, 1898, the fifth-order light in the old lighthouse was discontinued.
In 1902, a river and harbor appropriation act made provisions for an improved harbor with a depth of twenty-one feet at Waukegan. The Lighthouse Board requested $10,000 for a light and fog signal to mark the new work, and in 1905 the metal tower was relocated to mark the outer end of the south pier, which had been extended 1,400 feet. The elevated walk was extended from the former location to the new one, and in 1906, a steel, two-story, steel fog signal building, lined with brick, was attached to the cast-iron tower. Two, sixteen-horse-power, mineral oil engines were employed to produce a two-second blast of the fog horn every twenty seconds.
Frederick Raether was promoted to head keeper of Waukegan Lighthouse in 1902 after having served three years as assistant keeper at Wind Point Lighthouse. In December 1907, Keeper Raether apparently slipped on the icy pier surrounding the lighthouse and tumbled into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. When assistant keeper Charles Tesnow went to relieve Raether, he found the doors to the lighthouse open and the head keeper's coat and overcoat handing on a peg inside. Raether's cap was found floating in the lake, which led authorities to believe he had fallen into the lake and drowned. Raether's widow and mother of the couple's three children was prostrated when told of the news but was not too surprised, as her husband had often told her that his duties were fraught with danger. Raether's body was not found until a violent storm just over a year later stirred up the waters of Lake Michigan. The body was identified by its gold teeth and a weeding ring.
A two-story, redbrick double dwelling was built onshore for the head keeper and two assistants in 1909. This structure had six rooms on each side, with a toilet and bath in the basement. In 1919, two bathrooms were built on the first floor, and fixtures were moved from the basement.
In 1967, a fire broke out in the fog signal building that resulted in the near total destruction of that structure and the lantern room of the attached tower. The charred remains of the fog signal were removed from the pier, and the light tower was capped and topped by an exposed beacon. Today, the upper portion of the 1899 tower is painted green, and an occulting green light is displayed for mariners.
Located at the end of Government Pier in the harbor at Waukegan on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.