Situated in lovely Baileys Harbor in Door County, Wisconsin, the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse has stood as a beacon of human ingenuity for over 150 years. The history of this lighthouse is steeped in the rich maritime heritage of the Great Lakes region. Despite its relatively short life of service (17 years), this lighthouse is at the center of Door County’s early history.
Here is what we will cover in this blog post:
- Quick facts about the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
- Tips on visiting the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
- A description of the physical characteristics of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
- The history of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
- Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re interested in learning more about Door County’s other 11 lighthouses, make sure to check out our post on all Door County lighthouses.
- Built in 1852
- Decommissioned in 1869
- Located on the privately owned “Lighthouse Island”
Visiting the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
If you are interested in visiting the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse, it’s important to note that the lighthouse is on a small island that is privately owned and not open to visitors. This makes it difficult to explore the island and get a closer look at the structure.
However, you can still get a great view of the lighthouse from the water by boat. Some tour operators offer cruises that pass by the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse, giving visitors the opportunity to see the historic structure up close and take some great photos. The Door County Lighthouse Festival is an occasion when these tours might be readily available.
In addition to seeing the lighthouse, visitors can also take in the natural beauty of the surrounding area, including the stunning blue waters of Lake Michigan and the lush greenery of the island.
Physical Characteristics of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
The Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse is a unique and impressive structure, both historically and architecturally. The use of local materials, such as the limestone quarried nearby, not only made it a cost-effective choice for its construction but also gave it a distinctive look that is still evident today. Standing at 52 feet high, the tower is an impressive sight and a testament to the skill of its builders. The accompanying one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling is also made of limestone and complements the tower well. The lighthouse is located on Lighthouse Island, which adds to its charm and makes it a popular destination for sightseeing. Its name comes from the “birdcage” lantern on top, which is a unique feature that sets it apart from other lighthouses of its time.
History of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
The Growing Importance of Baileys Harbor
The history of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse dates back to the mid-19th century when Captain Justice Bailey weathered a severe storm in the harbor that would later bear his name. In October 1848, while taking refuge in the harbor, Captain Bailey went ashore and discovered that the area was rich in timber and stone that could be quarried. He reported this discovery to the owner of his ship, Alanson Sweet, who subsequently purchased 125 acres of land around the harbor.
Sweet sent a crew of men to make a settlement in the area and build a pier, sawmill, and quarry. The development of the harbor proved fruitful, and due to Sweet’s political influence, he was instrumental in the formation of Door County, with Baileys Harbor as its county seat.
The importance of Baileys Harbor as a safe haven for mariners became increasingly evident in the mid-19th century. At the time, it was the only harbor of refuge between Milwaukee and the treacherous Porte des Morts passage. The importance of this passage was demonstrated in the safety it afforded Captain Bailey, and this surely contributed to Sweet’s desire to develop Baileys Harbor. As the settlement grew, it became clear that the harbor needed a lighthouse to help guide ships safely into port. This led to the construction of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse.
Construction of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
Congress recognized the need for a lighthouse to help guide mariners into Baileys Harbor, and in 1852, the contract to construct the lighthouse was awarded to Alanson Sweet himself. A small island, now known as Lighthouse Island, was purchased for the construction of the lighthouse. Construction began that same year, with Sweet utilizing stone from his quarry and lumber from his mill.
Due to low water levels, materials were transported to the island using horse-drawn carriages instead of being ferried over the water. A 52-foot tower and a one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwelling were constructed, and the lighthouse was fitted with a “birdcage” style lantern. The original sixth-order Fresnel lens was later upgraded to a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
The Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse became a vital navigational aid for mariners entering the harbor. The unique design of the birdcage lantern, with its crisscrossing metal supports, helped to distinguish the lighthouse from others along the shore, making it easier for mariners to identify as they approached the harbor.
Today, the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse stands as a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of those who settled and developed Baileys Harbor in the mid-19th century.
Decommissioning of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse
By 1866, the condition of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse had deteriorated badly. Although Congress had initially approved plans to rebuild the lighthouse, it was ultimately determined that it did not effectively serve as a coast light or a range light to guide mariners past the dangerous shoals on either side of the harbor.
As a result, plans were made to build the Cana Island Lighthouse and the Baileys Harbor Range Lights, which would better serve the needs of mariners navigating the treacherous waters near Baileys Harbor. These newer lights made the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse obsolete, and it was decommissioned in 1869.
The decommissioning of the Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse marked the end of an era for the harbor and for the many mariners who had relied on it for safe passage. However, it also paved the way for the construction of newer, more advanced navigational aids that would help ensure the safety of mariners for generations to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, the lighthouse is located on a privately owned island and is not open to the public. The best way to see it is from the water by boat.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1869 because it did not effectively serve as a coast light or a range light to guide mariners past the dangerous shoals on either side of the harbor. The Cana Island Lighthouse and Baileys Harbor Range Lights replaced it.
The “birdcage” lantern is a distinctive feature of the lighthouse that is made up of a cage-like structure surrounding the light source. It was used to protect the light from the elements while still allowing it to be visible from all directions.
- The Old Baileys Harbor “Birdcage” Lighthouse is located on Lighthouse Island, Door County, Wisconsin, and was constructed in 1852.
- The lighthouse was built to guide mariners into Baileys Harbor, which was the only harbor of refuge at the time between Milwaukee and the Porte des Morts passage.
- The tower is 52 feet high and made of local limestone, while the keeper’s dwelling is one and a half stories.
- The Old Baileys Harbor Birdcage Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1869 and replaced by Cana Island Lighthouse and the Baileys Harbor Range Lights.
- Visitors cannot access the lighthouse as it is on a privately owned island, but boat tours offer views of the historic structure.