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 Sheboygan Breakwater, WI    
A hike of some distance required.
Description: On March 3, 1837, Congress appropriated $20,000 for each of four lighthouses to be constructed in Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Manitowoc, Chipewagan (Sheboygan), and Root River (Racine). Before work could begin on these lighthouses, the Board of Navy Commissioners had to examine the proposed sites and determine if the lights were needed. Lieutenant G. J. Pendergrast was accordingly dispatched to the Great Lakes and reported the following in August of 1837 regarding the lighthouse proposed for Sheboygan.
Sheboygan's North Point Lighthouse
Image Preserved by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center
Chipewagan river falls into the lake about twenty miles south of Manitowac. This stream is large enough to admit being formed into a fine harbor; and should there be an appropriation made for that purpose, I am satisfied it would be of general benefit to navigation. I did not hesitate to recommend the erection of a light-house at this point, believing as I did that there must soon be large towns at the mouths of all rivers on the lake shores where harbors can be erected.

The lighthouse built at Sheboygan was very similar to the other three lighthouses approved for Wisconsin in 1837 and consisted of a conical brick tower accompanied by a brick, one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling. The thirty-foot-tall tower tapered from a diameter of twelve feet at its base to six feet six inches at its lantern room, from which lamps and reflectors projected a light seaward at a focal plane of eighty feet above Lake Michigan. The lighthouse commenced operation in 1839, and a fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed in its lantern room in 1857.

The first keeper of the lighthouse was Stephen Wolverton. The following description of him was given in a 1910 edition of the Sheboygan County Historical Review. "He was a florid-faced, middle aged man from Maryland. It denotes the general condition of the colony to recall the fact that Woolverton, with his government salary of $365 a year, was probably the most aflluent person in the county, and regarded as a sort of capitalist who could afiord to dress and live in a more sumptuous manner than the others. With the exception of the lighthouse keeper the settlers were all people who earned their daily bread by daily toil."

Built on a bluff known as North Point, roughly one mile north of the river, Sheboygan Lighthouse was being threatened by erosion in the late 1850s, prompting the Lighthouse Board to have a replacement lighthouse built nearby in 1860. This new structure consisted of a frame keeper’s dwelling with a lantern set atop its roof.

Sheboygan's 1902 Breakwater Lighthouse
Image Preserved by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center
Due to a sandbar at its mouth, the Sheboygan River supported very little commerce until harbor improvements were begun in 1852, under the direction of the harbor commissioners of the town and county of Sheboygan. By 1854, parallel piers, 1,000 feet long and 175 feet apart, had been extended into Lake Michigan. The federal government took over the harbor improvements in 1866 and extended the piers lakeward. Pier lights were maintained locally until 1873, when the federal government constructed a lighthouse on the north pierhead.

Work on the lighthouse commenced in September, and its fixed red light, produced by a sixth-order Fresnel lens at a focal plane of thirty-two feet, was exhibited for the first time on December 1, 1873. This open framework tower, painted white, was twelve feet square at its base and tapered to eight feet square at its octagonal lantern room. An elevated wooden walkway allowed the keeper to access the tower in inclement weather.

Exports from Sheboygan in 1854 consisted of just 50,000 bushels of wheat, but after the harbor was developed, they grew dramatically. In 1874, exports included 408,500 bushels of wheat, 98,721 chairs, 2,500,000 bricks, 75,000 dozen eggs, 152,000 pounds of cheese, 132,000 pounds of wool, and 247,000 pounds of leather.

The pierhead tower was destroyed by fire on March 17, 1880, but a new tower was quickly erected and a light was exhibited from it on June 22 of that year. As the piers were extended over the years, the pierhead light was relocated lakeward and extensions were made to the elevated walkway. In 1884, the tower was moved 460 feet, and in 1889 it was moved another 200 feet seaward. Steamers owned by the Goodrich Transportation Company tore four of the walkway’s wooden support posts from the pier in 1891, and the company was billed for repairs.

A lens lantern light was established on the outer end of the pier on April 25, 1892 to form a range with the light exhibited from the framework tower. Two years later, an elevated conduit was erected on the north pier so the keeper could run a lantern out to the end of the pier to serve as the front range light without having to leave the rear tower. The conduit was damaged by a schooner during a storm in 1895 but was immediately rebuilt.

North Pier Lighthouse with walkway and fog signal
Image Preserved by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center
The Lighthouse Board requested funds for a fog signal for the north pier starting in 1892, but it took repeated requested before Congress appropriated $5,500 for the project on March 2, 1895. Prior to constructing the fog signal on the pier, the conduit light was discontinued on September 30, 1895, and the pierhead tower was moved 230 feet to the outer end of the pier. The Lighthouse Board gave the following description of the ten-inch steam fog whistle that commenced operation on March 5, 1896.

The plant consists of duplicate, square, open-bottom marine boilers and two Crosby automatic signals, contained in a substantial frame building, sheathed and covered inside and outside with iron. The frame is filled in with sawdust and lime filling. The building stands on a timber substructure, raised 5 feet above the top of the pier.
During its first three months, the steam whistle was in operation some 155 hours and consumed about thirteen tons of coal and one half of a cord of wood.

A survey of the harbor at Sheboygan was made in 1898 to determine the best method of “preventing the injurious effect of northeast seas” on the harbor. Seas between the piers had been so great as to break vessels from their moorings and cause collisions. The survey concluded, “there seems to be but one satisfactory method of ameliorating this condition, viz, the construction of a detached breakwater…so located so as to break the seas from the northeast.” The lowest bidder for the 700-foot-long breakwater was Edward Gillen of Racine, who submitted a bid of $83,720 for white pine and $82,800 for Norway pine.

On October 24, 1900, a fixed red lens lantern was displayed from a wooden post on the southeast end of the detached breakwater, that ran at a 45° off the end of the north pier. To protect the light, a V-shaped pier consisting of six courses of eighteen-foot-long, twelve-inch-square timbers was constructed on the exposed side of the breakwater. In 1902, metalwork was delivered at Sheboygan to construct an enclosed tower for the breakwater light. This lighthouse resembled an inverted funnel topped by a lantern room, and its light was first displayed on November 14, 1902.

The pierhead light was upgraded in 1904, when a fifty-foot-tall, circular tower, made up of steel plates riveted together, was erected atop a new concrete foundation at the outer end of the north pier. 1,700 running feet of elevated metal walkway was also installed that year, and on August 29, the lighthouse at North Point was discontinued, and its fifth-order Fresnel lens was placed in the new tower. The public was invited to visit the new tower on Sunday afternoons, and on September 25, 1904, over 100 visitors were received by the keepers. A fierce gale on November 28 drove the tower thirty feet north, leaving three feet of the tower projecting off the pier. A new sea wall was constructed to afford more protection for the tower.

Lighthouse on north pierhead in 1915, still topped by its fourth-order helical bar lantern room
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A new two-story, three-apartment, brick dwelling was built for the keepers of the Sheboygan lights in 1911, using $6,000 that had been appropriated for this purpose on June 30, 1906. The dwelling was located near the foot of the north pier. No longer needed, the old North Point Lighthouse was sold, and its owner relocated it a few blocks inland in 1916.

As part of a plan to create a stilling basin at the harbor entrance, most of the north pier was removed and a new north breakwater was constructed, necessitating the rearrangement of the harbor lights. The pagoda-style lighthouse was removed from the breakwater in June 1915 by the tender Hyacinth, while the tower on the wooden north pier was jacked up and placed on logs. The steel tower, which weighed about thirty tons, was relocated without dismantling it from the north pier to the new concrete north breakwater on August 19, 1915 using a scow. In its new location, the lighthouse showed a flashing red light every four seconds.

The tower stood about 4,000 feet from the inner end of the breakwater, where a powerhouse was constructed. The powerhouse contained a compressor and was connected to the circular lighthouse by a power line and a pipe, which carried compressed air. The foghorn protruded from the tower, about forty-four feet above lake level, and was connected to three air tanks located on the first and second floors of the tower. When needed the fog signal would sound a three-second blast every thirty seconds.

While the breakwater light served as the primary light at Sheboygan, a standard thirty-one-foot steel skeleton tower, which displayed a flashing white light every three seconds, was erected atop the south pierhead, and an iron post, from which a fixed red light was displayed, was placed on the truncated north pier. This new system of lights went into operation on November 24, 1916.

On June 12, 1919, an article in the local newspaper told of eighteen-year-old Francis Wolf, who was riding his bicycle out to the lighthouse late at night to meet some friends and plunged off the end pier. Fortunately, he was a good swimmer and was able to pull himself out of the water. The article noted that the pier was not a public thoroughfare for bicycles and such a practice was prohibited by law. Another act that local miscreants were warned against repeating was inscribing obscene words and “poetry unfit to read” on the lighthouse with their jack knives. Keeper Ingvald Olsen reported that this had become a common practice and warned that the “vicious practice must cease,” or the guilty parties would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

At some point, the lantern room was removed from Sheboygan Breakwater Lighthouse. The lighthouse still emits a three-second blast every thirty seconds when needed, but the characteristic of its light has been changed to a flashing white light every four seconds. The top of the tower is now also home to a NOAA weather station.

Sheboygan Lighthouse Head Keepers: Stephen Wolverton (1840 – 1845), Elijah F. Cook (1845 – 1848), Alexander H. Edwards (1848 – 1849), Thomas C. Homer (1849 – 1853), Sylvester Remington (1853 – 1854), Godfrey Stamm (1854 – 1857), Addison Manville (1857 – 1861), Nelson G. Stickles (1861 – 1865), Santy Brazelton (1865 – 1869), William G. Mallony (1869), Eva Pape (1869 – 1885), Peter Danielson (1886 – 1903), Bernhard Pizzalar (1903 – 1904), William P. Larson (1904).

Sheboygan Breakwater Lighthouse Head Keepers: John H. Roberts (1873 – 1883), Peter Danielsen (1883 – 1886), Amos Carpenter (1886 – 1903), Gottfried M.S. Hansen (1903 – 1914), Ingvald Olsen (1914 – 1930), Jerome Robinson (1930 – at least 1940).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses various years.

Location: Located at the end of the north breakwater in Sheboygan's harbor.
Latitude: 43.74955
Longitude: -87.6927

For a larger map of Sheboygan Breakwater Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Interstate 43 west of Sheboygan, take exit 126 and proceed east on Kohler Memorial Drive. As you continue straight, the road will become Erie Street. Turn right on 4th Street and then turn left onto Washington Court. At the end of Washington, turn right onto Broughton Drive and then left into the marina parking lot where you will find the start of the breakwater that leads to Sheboygan Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Sheboygan Breakwater Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
While conducting an archeological survey in 1990 in preparation for the construction of the Harbor Centre Marina, divers discovered the wreckage of the three-masted lumber schooner Lottie Cooper that sank off the entrance to the harbor during a gale on the night of April 9, 1894. The remains of the ship were salvaged in September 1992, and are located in Deland Park near the harbor. The eighty-nine-foot section is believed to be the longest section of a Great Lakes schooner on display.

Six of the seven crewmembers aboard the Lottie Cooper clung to the ship’s riggings and were rescued. The seventh member, Edward Olson, tried to make it to shore by floating on planks from the wreckage but was drowned in the process.


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