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 Manitowoc Breakwater, WI    
Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: Native Americans called this bay on Lake Michigan Manidoowaak, meaning dwelling of the spirit, because of its natural beauty. The town of Manitowoc was officially founded in 1836, after President Andrew Jackson authorized land sales in the area the previous year.

Original Manitowoc Lighthouse built in 1839
Photograph courtesy Manitowoc County Genealogy website
Upon an appointment by the Board of Navy Commissioners to examine proposed lighthouse sites on the Great Lakes, Lieutenant G. J. Pendergrast visited Manitowoc in 1837 and reported, “At this place the river is of good size, and may be easily formed into a harbor. The town is at present quite small, but bids fair to become a place of importance. I therefore recommend that the proposed light-house should be erected.”

Congress had appropriated $5,000 for the construction of a lighthouse at Manitowoc on March 3, 1837, and after the favorable report by Lt. Pendergrast, a Mr. Lyon of Tecumesh, Michigan was charged with selecting a suitable site and seeing the work was carried out. After land was purchased from William and Anna Jones, work began on a brick tower that tapered from a diameter of twelve feet at its base to six and a half feet at the lantern room. Stone steps led up to the lantern room, where the light was displayed through two windows, each with twelve, seven by ten inch glass panes. The tower measured thirty feet tall from base to ventilator ball, but due to the hill on which it stood, the light from its lamps and reflectors had a focal plane of sixty-three feet. The lighthouse, which was painted white, entered service in 1839.

The nearby one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling was also white and built of bricks, and it measured thirty-four by twenty feet. Keeper Peter Johnson, who cared for the light until 1842, was the dwelling’s first occupant. In 1856, a fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed atop the tower, but then in 1859 the tower was torn down some ten feet and rebuilt one foot taller to accommodate a new lantern room. On October 15, 1859, a sixth-order lens was installed that changed the characteristic of the light from fixed white to fixed white varied by a flash every two minutes.

North Pierhead Lighthouse with 1895 Breakwater Light and Fog Signal in the background
Photograph courtesy Manitowoc County Historical Society
The Legislature of Wisconsin petitioned Congress in 1865 for improvement of the harbor at Manitowoc. As a result, work on parallel piers at the mouth of the Manitowoc River began in 1867. At that time, there were roughly 680 arrivals and departures at the harbor each year, importing and exporting around 150,000 tons of merchandise. Wood in the form of lumber, shingles, broom handles, pickets, and staves made up most of the export tonnage, with wheat being the dominant agricultural export.

By 1872, the eastern extremity of the piers had been extended to a point where the natural depth of the lake was thirteen feet. Superstructure was built over the pier cribs in 1873, allowing a pierhead light on the outer end of the north pier to commence operation on December 10th of that year. A sixth-order Fresnel lens produced a fixed red light inside an octagonal lantern room set atop a square, framework tower, with an enclosed upper portion. The tower, painted white, tapered from twelve feet square at its base to eight feet square at the lantern room and had a height of nearly thirty feet.

The keeper of the 1839 Manitowoc Lighthouse was charged with looking after the pierhead light as well. He continued to perform this double-duty for three years until Manitowoc Lighthouse was discontinued at the opening of navigation in 1877.

In 1881, a fog bell, struck by machinery, was established at the pierhead light. Also that year, the light was moved lakeward 100 feet, and the tower’s elevated walkway, used by the keeper in inclement weather, was extended the same amount. In 1884, this walkway, which was 784-feet-long, was extended another 240 feet shoreward.

In 1892, the Lighthouse Board requested $5,500 for a steam fog signal to guide the numerous steamers that, after the closing of the Straits of Mackinac in winter, transported goods form Manitowoc to railroad terminals on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. A 400-foot-long breakwater, built off the northern pier at an angle of 45°, had been proposed for Manitowoc in 1890 to protect the harbor, and this work was carried out in 1895. After Congress provided $5,500 on March 2, 1895, a substantial frame fog signal building, covered with corrugated iron and equipped with an enclosed lantern atop its gable end, was constructed on the southeast end of the breakwater. This structure’s light and fog signal were placed in operation on November 30, 1895.

As another keeper was needed to help run the fog signal and additional light, the original keeper’s dwelling was torn down, and a double dwelling was completed in its place on December 27, 1895. Each of the dwelling’s two apartments had a parlor, dining room and kitchen on the first floor, and three bedrooms on the second floor. The discontinued old brick lighthouse was also razed in 1895.

Old and new breakwater lighthouses
The Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad launched a railroad car ferry service between Manitowoc and Ludington in 1897 using the Pere Marquette, the first steel car ferry. In 1900, the ferry transported 27,000 railroad cars across Lake Michigan. The S.S. Badger, which has been converted to carry automobiles and passengers, is the last of the fourteen railcar ferries that served this route.

Following the extension of the breakwater, the light and fog signal were relocated 400 feet southeast and commenced operation there on May 17, 1904. In 1907, a project for improving the harbor necessitated the removal of the outer 500 feet of the breakwater and the old piers. The breakwater light and fog signal were therefore relocated 500 feet shoreward, and the 1873 pier light was relocated to the stub of the old north pier. By 1910, new converging breakwaters were in place.

In 1912, the Lighthouse Bureau recommended that a new fog signal building be constructed as the existing structure was very shaky “due to movement and settlement of [the] pier and to the fact that the building has been moved twice.” After repeated requests, Congress finally approved $21,000 for the project on June 12, 1917. The old structure was removed from the breakwater in 1918, and the current steel lighthouse was constructed atop a concrete basement that measures twenty-two feet wide, by forty-eight feet six inches long, and eleven feet two inches high. The lighthouse was built of one-fourth inch steel plate and is nineteen by thirty-four feet on its first story and nineteen feet square on its second story. The second story supports the round diaphone room, which has a diameter of twelve feet four and three-quarters inches, and the lantern room. A steel switch house was built at the shore end of the breakwater to provide power to the lighthouse via a 2,400-foot-long electric cable, housed in a two-inch galvanized pipe.

A temporary oil light was exhibited from the tower’s decagonal lantern room on November 15, 1918, and then work was suspended until $9,000 in additional funding was provided on July 19, 1919. After this date, electric and oil engine compressors, a diaphone fog signal, and an electric light were installed. The station’s permanent light, displayed from a fourth-order Fresnel lens at a height of forty-six feet above the breakwater, commenced operation on December 13, 1919, the same date the type “F” diaphone fog signal was established.

The basement of the lighthouse was used as a boathouse. The first story, which was lined with hollow tile, was used as a power room, and the second story, which was lined with plaster on metal lath, was fitted with a shower and lavatory, and furnished with desk and chairs.

1918 Breakwater Lighthouse with elevated walkway
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.
Joseph Napiezinski served as keeper of Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse from 1911 to 1941. Besides his duties of minding the light and fog signal, he kept a watchful for anyone on the water who might need his assistance. In 1915, he helped float a grounded dredge and scow. In 1918, he helped recover the body of one of two young people who drowned in the Manitowoc River. In 1920, he rescued aviators from a fallen plane, and in 1922 he assisted in recovering the body of a woman who drowned near the lighthouse.

The wooden tower on the stub of the north pier was electrified on September 13, 1921. This structure was destroyed by a storm in 1937 and replaced by a skeletal tower.

Efforts to obtain a new dwelling for the three keepers assigned to Manitowoc Lighthouse began in 1921, after the view of the harbor from the keepers’ duplex, which housed the keeper and first assistant, had been cut off by new construction. (The second assistant was forced to board with a private family.) After considerable difficulty in clearing title on a site at the end of the breakwater, a dwelling for the three keepers was finally completed in 1935 at a cost of $27,329. The old keepers’ duplex was sold to the Otto Oas Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1938. The redbrick triplex is still standing at the corner of Chicago Street and North Lake Street.

The diaphone fog signal was removed from Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse in 1964 and replaced by an electronic foghorn. The lighthouse was automated in 1971, and the fifth-order Fresnel lens was removed in 2002 and placed on display at the nearby Wisconsin Maritime Museum. A more modern tower marks the end of the south breakwater.

In 2009, the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit corporations, and educational organizations under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. When no interested party was found to assume ownership of the lighthouse, it was put up for auction by the government on October 18, 2010. Only two bids were received for the property: the minimum bid of $25,000 on December 6, followed just hours later by a bid of $30,000 from "philross." The auction closed the next day after no new bids were received.

The winning bidder was later identified as Philip Carlucci of Melville, New York. In July of 2011, the executive director of Wisconsin Maritime Museum called for graffiti on the lighthouse to be removed ASAP. Carlucci did not respond to repeated interview requests from the Herald Times Reporter initially, but later explained that he had not yet received the deed for the lighthouse, but when he did a thorough restoration of the lighthouse was planned. The Coast Guard hinted that they might be willing to allow personnel from its Two Rivers station to help paint the lighthouse as a community service project, and that did indeed happen on July 25.

A New York businessman, Carlucci said that since going to the beach as a youth and climbing lighthouses, it has been a dream to one day own one. Carlucci has been involved with lighthouse restoration projects on Long Island and had an architectural consultant perform a comprehensive photographic survey of the interior and exterior so that restoration can begin once he gets the key to the front door.

Head Keepers: Peter Johnson (1839 – 1842), Carleton Smith (1842 – 1844), Thomas A. H. Edwards (1844 – 1849), Madison Burlingame (1849 – 1853), Jesse M. Sherwood (1853), Abraham W. Preston (1853 – 1854), William Backus (1854 – 1859), T. Edwards (1859 – 1861), Alvin Andrews (1861 – 1865), Samuel A. Stone (1865 – 1874), William A. Conine (1874 – 1875), Christian Anderson (1875 – 1897), Charles Ahlgrin (1897 – 1911), Joseph Napiezinski (1911 – 1941).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses various years.
  3. "Unsightly welcome to Manitowoc Harbor," Charlie Mathews, Herald Times Reporter, July 24, 2011.
  4. "New owner aims to restore lighthouse's beauty," Charlie Mathews, Herald Times Reporter, July 26, 2011.

Location: Located at the end of the northern breakwater in Manitowoc's harbor.
Latitude: 44.09266
Longitude: -87.64365

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


Travel Instructions: From Interstate 43 southwest of Manitowoc, take exit 148 and follow Highway 151 to downtown Manitowoc. Highway 151 will eventually become Washington Street, from which you will turn left onto 8th Street and cross the Manitowoc River. Just after the river, turn right onto Maritime Drive and follow it to the marina.

The fifth-order Fresnel lens used in the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse is on display at the nearby Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

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

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