|Grassy Island Range, WI|
Description: Lieutenant G. J. Pendergrast was appointed by the Board of Navy Commissioners in 1837 to examine the eligibility of proposed lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Congress had appropriated $5,000 on March 3, 1837 for erecting a lighthouse “at the entrance of Green bay,” but Pendergrast noted that the lighthouse under construction on Pottawatomie Island fulfilled this purpose. While a lighthouse was needed at Death’s Door, a second entrance to Green Bay used by vessels coming from the southern portion of Lake Michigan, Pendergrast concluded that there were stronger reasons for erecting a lighthouse at the head of the bay near the mouth of the Fox River and recommended the center of Grassy Island as the most eligible place.
A special committee of the Lighthouse Board sent to the Great Lakes in 1864 determined that lights were needed in Green Bay on Chambers Island, Peshtigo Reef, and at the entrance to the Fox River. Although Congress appropriated $11,000 for range lights on Grassy Island by 1866, the project could not proceed until a cut being dredged through Grassy Island to straighten the channel leading to the mouth of the Fox River was complete.
Writing in 1867, James B. Quinn, a lieutenant with the United States Engineers, noted the following about the improvements being made to the channel leading to the mouth of the Fox River.
In the present condition of the entrance [at Green Bay] a vessel can get out of Chicago harbor loaded with one hundred tons more freight than it can from this; and by reason of its tortuousness, it is entirely inaccessible by night, and dangerous at all times. …
Work on dredging the channel commenced in the fall of 1866, but due to problems with the dredge, little was accomplished that year. During 1867, new machinery was used to cut a nine-and-half-foot-deep channel through Grassy Island, and over the next few years the channel was dredged to a greater depth and extended north and south of the island. In 1870, the sides of the cut through Grassy Island were revetted with sheet piling to stabilize the banks.
The Grassy Island Range Lights were positioned on the eastern side of the cut, and a two-story keeper’s dwelling was built between the lights – 500 feet from the front light and 140 feet from the rear light. The front tower measured twenty-seven feet from its base to its ventilator ball, while the rear tower was seven feet taller. Both towers were thirteen feet square at their bases and tapered to eight feet square at their lantern rooms, which were octagonal and had a diameter of six feet. The towers’ Fresnel lenses were manufactured in Paris, France by H. LePaute. Joseph B. Wing was appointed the first keeper of the range lights.
During a gale in November of 1873, water swept over Grassy Island and carried away the walkways that lead to the outhouse, well, and woodshed. The station’s well was also filled in by the gale, but it wasn’t a big loss as the keeper had been using the bay as a primary water source. A new well, 139 feet deep and equipped with a pump, was drilled near the dwelling in 1884 and lined with four-inch iron pipe.
An area on the first floor of the dwelling, fitted with an oil-butt stand, was used as an oil house until a detached brick oil house was built in 1901. A landing for the station’s boathouse was located adjacent to the rear tower.
The range lights kept their fixed white signature until 1934, when the fuel for the lights was changed to acetylene gas and the characteristic of the rear light became fixed green and that of the front light a green flash every five seconds. As sun valves had been installed to light and the extinguish the lights, a resident keeper was no longer needed, and Keeper Louis Hutzler retired from the Grassy Island station after having served there for thirty years.
Dredging on the entrance channel had to be performed almost annually to maintain the desired depth and also to accommodate larger ships. In 1966, the Corps of Engineers was planning on widening the channel through Grassy Island and removing the land on which the range lights stood. The Coast Guard had decided to demolish the structures on site, but Elmer Dost of the Green Bay Yacht club contacted the Corps about the possibility of acquiring the lighthouses. Carl Petersen of the Corps helped the club obtain the lights, and they were relocated to the club’s property on the east side of the entrance to the Fox River in November of 1966.
The lighthouses stood on a paved area on the north side of the club’s harbor until 1998, when they were relocated to the breakwall on the west side of the harbor. At this time, a restoration effort was launched that took roughly $400,000 and several years to complete. The restored Grassy Island Range Lights were dedicated at a public ceremony held on November 5, 2005.
A small remnant of Grassy Island still remains to this day, and it is home to a navigational light and a pelican rookery.
Located at the eastern side of the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay. The lights are owned by the Green Bay Yacht Club. Grounds open, towers closed.
The lights are owned by the Green Bay Yacht Club. Grounds open, towers closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.