|Milwaukee Breakwater, WI|
Description: In 1882, work began on a breakwater at Milwaukee to create a harbor of refuge to afford mariners a protected anchorage during severe storms. The north arm of the breakwater starts near North Point and extends southeast for 2,450 before turning south and continuing for another 1,000 feet. After a gap of 400 feet, the south arm of the breakwater runs another 4,500 feet.
The Lighthouse Board noted in 1899 that Congress had provided funds in March of that year for completing the breakwater and requested $75,000 for a permanent light to mark its southern end. While waiting for funding, a temporary beacon, consisting of two, five-day lens lanterns that showed a red light above a white light, was established on the breakwater.
In 1902, while the Lighthouse Board was waiting for funding for a new breakwater light, metalwork was delivered to Milwaukee, and the post light at the southern end of the breakwater was enclosed in a white, hexagonal structure. Work on this new lighthouse, “a white pyramid, surmounted by a shaft, having two glazed belts forming the lanterns, surmounted by a dome,” was completed in October, and its lights were activated on the 24th of that month. The upper light was shown at a focal plane of forty-and-a-half feet and the lower light at thirty-two feet.
Under a $74,558 contract, Racine-Truscott-Shell Lake Boat Company built the Milwaukee Lightship, (LV 95/WAL 51) in 1911 – 1912. The 108.5-foot, steel-hulled vessel sank at the contractor’s docks in Muskegon, Michigan on December 26, 1911, and was not raised until February 20, 1912. The steam screw lightship was equipped with a lantern atop its foremast in which a revolving parabolic reflector and incandescent lamp served as the illuminating apparatus. After MILWAUKEE was painted in white on the lightship’s red hull, the vessel took up its station three miles offshore from the breakwater on November 1, 1912.
In the 1920s, a breakwater was extended from the southern shore of Milwaukee Bay to form an enclosed outer harbor at Milwaukee. The Commissioner of Lighthouses requested $229,800 in 1923 for establishing aids to navigation and improving existing aids at Milwaukee, noting that upon the completion of the work the Milwaukee Lightship, which cost $19,000 to maintain each year, could likely be discontinued. The main breakwater entrance would be located directly offshore from the mouth of the river, and would be marked by a major lighthouse on the southern end of the northern breakwater and a minor light on the northern end of the southern breakwater. Besides these lights, minor lights were also placed to mark two other entrances through the breakwater: the northern entrance, and the southern entrance.
The main light is located at the south end of the north breakwater in 34 feet of water. It marks the north side of the main entrance.
The circular lantern room with helical bars and fourth-order Fresnel lens used atop the Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse were taken from the Milwaukee Pierhead. The pierhead tower was then equipped with an old lantern from stock and a fifth-order Fresnel lens. The Milwaukee Lightship remained at its station until 1932.
Jack Eckert was assigned to Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse in 1955. At that time, the station was staffed with four coastguardsmen. The men served three-days on and three-days off, and two of them were always at the lighthouse, where they stood watches of twelve-hours on and twelve-hours off. Their main duty was to monitor the timing of the radiobeacon and the distance-finding blast of the foghorn. Each day, they also had to clean the cobwebs from the lantern room, where spiders “came in all sizes, shapes, and colors.” Spider bites on the station were just a way of life.
Mr. Eihlein of Schlitz Brewery had provided the station with a large black and white television set just before Eckert began his duty at the breakwater. Eihlein also offered to provide the station with beer, but that offer was politely declined by the officer-in-charge. The Milwaukee Braves were having a good year, and their televised baseball games were a big hit at the station. Besides the television, Eckert filled his free time taking correspondence courses and keeping an eye on fishermen near the station, who would sometimes climb the steel ladder up to the lighthouse and enter announced using their “taxpayer rights.”
Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse was automated in 1966, and its Coast Guard crew removed. The fourth-order Fresnel lens originally used in the tower was removed in 1994 and loaned to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, where it is currently on display.
In June 2011, Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse was declared excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard and made available to eligible organizations under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Qualified entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest and were required to obtain permission to access the lighthouse from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the pier on which the lighthouse sits. Three nonprofit groups, Optima Enrichment, the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (UWM), and Mt. Zion House, submitted an application for the lighthouse, but after a tour of the structure, UWM dropped out, and Optima Enrichment and Mt. Zion House decided to combine their efforts, and in September 2013, the lighthouse was awarded to Optima Enrichment. “We are absolutely thrilled to be entrusted with the lighthouse and the restoration of this icon of our harbor,” said Randall Melchert, co-founder of Optima Enrichment. “The view of both the Milwaukee skyline as well as Lake Michigan (from the lighthouse) is a spiritual experience that we want to share with our community and tourists alike. We are hoping to open it to the public for events like Doors Open Milwaukee. We want to open it for events and sightseeing for people to appreciate the maritime history of Milwaukee.”
Chamberlin Group will be the project development manager for the restoration of the lighthouse, which is expected to cost up to $2.5 million.
Located at the southern tip of the northern breakwater in the Milwaukee harbor. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.