Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse
Coordinates: 44°27′26″N, 87°29′35″W
Year first lit: 1931
Tower shape: Square
Height: 43 feet (13 m)
Original lens: Fifth order Fresnel lens
Range: 15 statute miles (24 km)
Characteristic: White, Flashing
Imagine thick blankets of fog covering the entrance to the harbor so thick that people could not see their hand in front of them. These foggy conditions along Kewaunee’s shores could make boat travel dangerous. Back in 1892, when rumors spread that Kewaunee contained gold, immigrants rushed to Kewaunee to cash in on that gold. At this time, Kewaunee’s chances of becoming a major port on Lake Michigan were high.
A pair of range lights were installed in 1891 that helped guide people in from the fog. The next year, construction of the piers and dredging of the river began. There was an elevated catwalk where the lighthouse keeper would enter the lighthouse. The catwalk ran the length of the pier and was used to help keep the lighthouse keeper safe from fierce storms.
In 1909, a diaphone fog signal horn was installed in the front range light. Also at this time, a large fog signal building was built in front of the lighthouse. This addition was used to contain the steam power for the fog signal and doubled as housing for the keeper as he kept watch on long, foggy nights. A seventy-foot steel range light tower was added in 1912.
In 1931, the front range lights were eliminated and a new 45 foot focal plane was constructed on the roof of the 1909 fog horn addition. It is thought that the old fifth order Fresnel lenses were moved into the new tower.
In 1930, during a routine trip between Kewaunee and Michigan, the car ferry “Ann Arbor” crashed into the pier and damaged both the pier and lighthouse. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for repairing the damage.
Between 1931 and the present time there were few major changes. The catwalk was removed and the door moved to pier level. In 1981 the light was automated by an electric four-bulb changer, but the fifth order Fresnel light still shines its white beam on fishermen. The diaphone fog signal was also removed from the tower in 1981, but a Kewaunee native recorded the foghorn’s unique sound before it was dismantled. Now, the 30 minute recording he made is enshrined in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
Kewaunee’s square lighthouse, resembling the Holland Lighthouse, is white with a red roof. It is steel-frame constructed and covered with one-quarter inch steel plate. The tower height is 43 feet and there are no living quarters in the house. The lighthouse is located on the south pier and on the north pier is a navigation marker. The house is currently owned by the City of Kewaunee and plans are underway to restore the lighthouse to its original gandeur.
Although real gold was never found in Kewaunee, and car ferry service between Kewaunee and Michigan has come to an end, Kewaunee’s lighthouse continues to serve as a beacon to the many visitors that come to enjoy all Kewaunee has to offer.