The Chambers Island Lighthouse is a historic landmark located in Door County, Wisconsin. Built in 1868, the lighthouse was a crucial aid to navigation for vessels traveling through the Great Lakes. Today, the lighthouse stands as a reminder of the important role that lighthouses played in maritime history
This post is a deep-dive on the topic of the Chambers Island Lighthouse. Here is what we will cover in this post:
- Quick Facts
- Visiting the Chambers Island Lighthouse
- Map of the Location of the Chambers Island Lighthouse
- History of the Chambers Island Lighthouse
- Physical Characteristics
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Chambers Island Lighthouse is just one of Door County’s 11 amazing lighthouses. Make sure to check out our hub post on all Door County’s lighthouses to learn more about the rest of them!
- Built in 1868
- Automated in 1955
- Located on Chambers Island in the bay of Green Bay
- Grounds are open, but the buildings are generally closed to the public
Visiting the Chambers Island Lighthouse
The grounds around the Chambers Island LIghthouse are accessible either by private boat or charter boat. This is public land, so landing at the lighthouse site is permissible. Green Bay is generally calmer and safer than Lake Michigan, but caution is still advised. Only experienced and well-outfitted boaters should attempt making passage to Chambers Island. The Town of Gibraltar maintains a public boat dock at the lighthouse.
Organized tours may be available as part of the Door County Lighthouse Festival. These are likely the easiest way to see the Chambers Island Lighthouse in person.
The Need for a Lighthouse Identified
The Chambers Island Lighthouse has a rich history dating back to the mid-19th century. In 1837, G. J. Pendergrast submitted a report to the Board of Navy Commissioners, highlighting the need for lighthouses on the Great Lakes. He specifically mentioned Chambers Island as a potential location for a lighthouse due to its strategic position in the direct line of vessels and the numerous hazards surrounding the island.
Despite Pendergrast’s report, it would be another thirty years before a lighthouse was built on Chambers Island. In 1865, a special committee of the lighthouse board visited the area and determined that a lighthouse was necessary for safe navigation. Congress subsequently appropriated funds for the project, and construction commenced in 1866.
Construction of the Lighthouse
Construction on the Chambers Island Lighthouse began in June 1868, after Congress appropriated funds for the project. The lighthouse was designed by Orlando Metcalfe Poe, a prominent civil engineer and officer in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Thirty acres of land were purchased from Lewis and Anna Williams for $250, upon which the lighthouse was built. Lewis Williams was appointed as the first keeper of the lighthouse, and he began his duties on October 1, 1868.
The construction of the Chambers Island Lighthouse was a significant undertaking, requiring the expertise of skilled engineers and laborers. The lighthouse was built to withstand the harsh weather conditions of the Great Lakes, including strong winds and heavy snowfall. Its construction is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of the people who built it and reflects the importance of the lighthouse in ensuring safe navigation in the region.
Replacement of the Chambers Island Lighthouse
Over time, advances in technology have rendered many lighthouses obsolete, and the Chambers Island Lighthouse is no exception. In 1955, the lighthouse was automated, which meant that the need for a human keeper was no longer necessary. As part of this automation process, the lantern and the Fresnel lens were removed, and a skeleton tower was installed in their place.
The new tower was a simple metal structure, which lacked the grandeur and historical significance of the original lighthouse. However, it was more practical and efficient, and it fulfilled the same function of guiding ships safely through the area. In 1961, a separate, freestanding skeleton tower and light were installed nearby to further improve the navigational aids in the area.
Eventually, the original lighthouse became redundant, and in 1976, the land and buildings were given to the Town of Gibraltar, which now operates the area as a park. While the original lighthouse no longer functions as a navigational aid, it remains an important historical landmark and a symbol of the area’s rich maritime heritage. The technological replacement of the Chambers Island Lighthouse reflects the ongoing evolution of technology and the changing needs of the shipping industry.
Physical Characteristics of the Chambers Island Lighthouse
The Chambers Island Lighthouse is an impressive structure, both in terms of its historical significance and its physical characteristics. The lighthouse is made of cream-colored brick, which gives it a distinctive appearance. One of the unique features of the lighthouse is that the tower and the dwelling are attached to each other, creating a single cohesive structure.
The dwelling is one and a half stories tall, and the first two stories of the tower are square, while the upper story of the tower is octagonal. The lighthouse originally had a decagonal lantern with a revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens, which allowed the light to be seen for up to 15 miles. Unfortunately, neither the lantern nor the lens remain today.
The Chambers Island Lighthouse had a focal plane height of 68 feet above the bay of Green Bay. This height was carefully chosen to ensure that the light was visible to ships traveling through the area, while also taking into account the topography of the surrounding landscape. The lighthouse played a vital role in ensuring the safe navigation of vessels through the Great Lakes, and its physical characteristics reflect the ingenuity and skill of the people who built it.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, visitors are not allowed to climb to the top of the lighthouse tower. The tower is no longer in use as a navigational aid, and the original lantern and Fresnel lens have been removed.
While the lighthouse itself is not open to the public, the surrounding grounds are accessible by private or charter boat. The Town of Gibraltar maintains a public boat dock at the lighthouse, and organized tours may be available as part of the Door County Lighthouse Festival.
The original lantern and Fresnel lens were removed in 1955 when the lighthouse was automated. A skeleton tower was installed in their place. Today, neither the lantern nor the lens remain, but replicas of the lens can be found in museums and lighthouse parks around the country.
- The need for a lighthouse on Chambers Island was identified in 1837, but construction did not commence until 1866.
- Construction on the lighthouse commenced in June 1868 and the lighthouse began operation on October 1, 1868.
- The lighthouse is made of cream-colored brick and consists of a dwelling and tower that are attached to each other.
- The light is sixty-eight feet above the bay of Green Bay and had a decagonal lantern with a revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens.
- The lighthouse was automated in 1955 and the original lantern and Fresnel lens were removed.
- The land and buildings were given to the Town of Gibraltar in 1976 and are now operated as a park.
- The grounds around the lighthouse are accessible by private or charter boat, and a public boat dock is maintained by the Town of Gibraltar.
- Visitors are not allowed to climb to the top of the lighthouse tower, but organized tours may be available as part of the Door County Lighthouse Festival.
- The original lantern and Fresnel lens have been removed, but replicas of the lens can be found in museums and lighthouse parks around the country.