Manitowoc Main Light Seeing The Light

Manitowoc, Wisconsin Home Back

Historical Information

While an Indian village was known to exist at the mouth of the Manitowoc river as early as 1822, European settlement of the area did not begin until 1835 when speculators began nosing around the area as a result or rumors of gold being found in Kewaunee to the north. In 1836, a group of early entrepreneurs in the area proposed the establishment of a railroad to the Pacific. Catching word of the potential boom in the area, brothers William and Benjamin Jones arrived from Chicago and formed the Manitowoc Land Company and began buying up land at the river mouth, selling lots for as much as $1,000 each, and amount that was virtually unheard of at the time.

Click to view enlarged imageA number of memorials for harbor improvements were presented before the House of Representatives and the Senate on their behalf, and convinced that Manitowoc would be a "going concern," federal funding for the establishment of a lighthouse on the north shore of the river was made available, and a work crew arrived in Manitowoc to begin construction in 1839.

The brick tower stood 12' in diameter at the foundation and tapered to a diameter of 6' 6" immediately beneath the gallery. To accommodate these tapered walls while maintaining a basically cylindrical inner core for the stone stairs which wound their way around the tower's inner walls, the brick was laid so that it decreased in thickness from 3' 1" at the foundation to 1' 9" at the top. A circular stone floor was erected atop the tower, and an octagonal cast iron lantern with fifteen 11" by 9" plate glass panes on each side . installed at its center and capped with a copper roof and ventilator. Within the lantern, eleven Winslow Lewis patent lamps were installed, and equipped with 14" reflectors to exhibit a fixed white characteristic. All told, the structure stood 30 feet from the foundation to the lantern ball, and by virtue of the tower's location atop a slight bluff, boasted a focal plane of 63 feet.

Click to view enlarged imageThe 1 - story brick dwelling stood 34 by 20 feet in plan and contained a kitchen and parlor on the first floor and two bedrooms and a closet on the second floor. A short covered way led from the dwelling to the tower, and provided the keeper with access to the light without having to go outside during inclement weather, and a storage area for oil for the Lewis lamps. To render the station visible during daylight hours, both tower and dwelling were coated with whitewash, while the lantern was painted deep black.

During his visit to the station in 1850, Henry B Miller, the inspector for the Northwestern Lakes reported that other than finding the tower needing a coat of whitewash for which he authorized an expenditure of $15.00, both the station and the conduct of its keeper were good. The number of patent lamps in the lantern was reduced to six at some time thereafter in order to reduce operating costs. Such tight fiscal control in the face of maritime needs typified the administration of the Lighthouse Service under Stephen Pleasonton, and with the creation of the Lighthouse Board in 1853, one of the first issues of business for the new Board was a system-wide upgrading of the feeble and ubiquitous Lewis lamps to the infinitely superior French Fresnel-style lenses. To this end, the Lewis lamps at Manitowoc were removed and replaced by a fixed white Sixth Order Fresnel lens in 1856. Two years later, a work crew arrived at the station and replaced the dwelling floors, which had been found to be in poor condition during the previous year's inspection. The characteristic of the light was changed to fixed white varied by a white flash in 1859 with a visibility range of eleven miles in clear weather. For the next decade, little mention is made of the station beyond appearing in annual reports as being "fairly old, but in good condition" and only routine maintenance being performed on a periodic basis.

Click to view enlarged imageWith the erection of the new Manitowoc North Pierhead beacon in 1873, the Sixth Order lens was removed from the main light and relocated to the new beacon, where it was equipped with a red glass chimney to impart a fixed red characteristic, and a Fifth order lens was installed in the main light without change in the station's previous characteristic.

With the extension of the North pier, and the relocation of the pierhead beacon, it was determined that the old main light no longer served as a guide into the harbor, and the decision was made to discontinue the old light, and thus the lens was removed from the tower at the opening of the 1877 navigation season and the Manitowoc Light ceased to appear on subsequent Great Lakes Light Lists. While the old station no longer served any purpose as an aid to navigation, it continued to serve as the primary dwelling for the keeper of the Pierhead Light.
Keepers of this Light


Click Here to see a complete listing of all Grand Haven Light keepers compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Reference Sources

Journals of the US Senate, various, 1833 1874
Journals of the House of Representatives, various, 1834 1874
Annual reports of the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, Various, 1838 1852
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Board, various,1853 1909
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Service, various,1910 1939
Great Lakes Light Lists, Various, 1861 1999
Annual Reports of the Lake Carriers Association, various, 1908 1939
History of the Great Lakes, J H Beers Co., Chicago 1899
Historic Grand Haven & Ottawa County. Leo C. Lillie, 1931
Grand Haven Chronicle article, July 29, 1987
Email correspondence with Wallace K. Ewing
Lights Of the Lakes, Chris Duncan, Michigan Coastal Management Program, June 7 1984
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

This page last modified 12/02/2007

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