A post on the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin website states, “The recent upsurge in interest in Sheboygan County is a direct result of the effort the community has made on the waterfront. It has, in a sense, come back to its roots, for it was the waters of Lake Michigan and what is now the Sheboygan River that first attracted attention to this area.” But what it doesn’t mention is that no effort or movements have been made to put a lantern back on top of the town’s headless lighthouse. It also makes no mention of the community’s other historic lighthouses that have been lost in the dusty pages of time.
The fact that Sheboygan’s lighthouse is topless apparently doesn’t bother most local people. For example, in a newspaper interview in 1989, Manning Kilton, who was Sheboygan’s Harbor Master for 29 years (until 1985), said, “I’m used to looking out there and seeing that lighthouse blink, blink, blink and hearing that foghorn.” Kilton went on to say at that time how proud he was of that lighthouse and the sophisticated electronic gear in the tower, including the weather instruments that are connected to the national weather station in Fort Worth, Texas.
Sheboygan’s lighthouse history dates back to the late 1830s when the first lighthouse was built. Stephen Woolverton, along with his wife Emily, served as its first keepers. This early light consisted of a number of oil-burning lamps arranged in a circle in the lantern of the tower. Woolverton and his wife lived in a house near the tower. The lighthouse was actually there before people even started to settle in Sheboygan. Fox Cook, the keeper who followed Woolverton, recalled that when he was the keeper, Sheboygan was so small that the postmaster kept the mail in his hat and church services were held in the old schoolhouse where the men sat on one side and the women sat on the other side.
This lighthouse was replaced in 1860 by a newer building with a tower protruding from the front of the roof. It became known locally as the North Point Lighthouse, because it was built on a bluff known as North Point.
In an interview with the local historical society, Mrs. Ernst (Emma) Somnnemann recalled how her father, Peter Donaldson, would climb the North Point tower every midnight to change the lights. On cold evenings, the windows would become frosted and he would have to clean them with glycerin. He must have liked the job for he was the keeper there for 25 years.
The Sheboygan North Point Lighthouse was replaced by a light on Sheboygan’s North Pier, and the keepers lived in a house on shore furnished by the government. Over the years, there were a number of different beacons and lighthouses placed on the breakwater and pier, including a Pagoda style lighthouse and a cast iron tower that was typical of many other lighthouses.
But it was the move of the 30-ton cast iron tower from the North Pier to the breakwater in 1915 that was considered an engineering feat in its time. Sadly, its historical significance was altered with the removal of its lantern in the 1950s. Today it sits as a headless lighthouse, a small reminder of its splendid past.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2020 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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