The Sherwood Point Lighthouse is a historic landmark located in Door County, Wisconsin. In this post, we will take you through the history of the lighthouse, its construction, life as a lighthouse keeper, automation, and present-day use. While visiting the Sherwood Point Lighthouse is difficult, it is still an operational lighthouse that can be seen by water or as part of the Door County Lighthouse festival. Join us as we explore the rich history and fascinating facts about this iconic Great Lakes lighthouse.
Here is what we’ll cover in this blog post:
While visiting the Sherwood Point Lighthouse is difficult, other lighthouses in Door County are more accessible. Check out our post on all Door County lighthouses to learn which ones are easiest to visit.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse Quick Facts
- Built in 1883
- Automated in 1983
- Last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes
- Only Door County lighthouse built with red brick instead of the customary cream city brick
- Generally not open to the public
Visiting the Sherwood Point Lighthouse
Visiting the Sherwood Point Lighthouse can be a challenging task due to the lack of public access to the grounds and buildings. While it is not typically open to the public, there are still ways to see this historic lighthouse.
The first option is to view it from the water, either by private boat or a charter. This allows visitors to see the lighthouse from a unique perspective and appreciate its location on a bluff above the water.
As a Vacation Rental
Another option for visitors is to rent the lighthouse as a vacation home through the Coast Guard’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program, which is available exclusively to members of the military.
Door County Lighthouse Festival
Finally, visitors can attend the Door County Lighthouse Festival, which takes place annually in June and offers rare access to the lighthouse and grounds during guided tours. This festival is a great opportunity for visitors to learn about the history of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse and gain a deeper understanding of its significance as a navigational aid on Lake Michigan.
History of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse
The Need for a Lighthouse Identified
Before the construction of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse, Sturgeon Bay was not a major port and did not require a navigational aid. However, plans to construct the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal began in 1864, and construction on the canal started that same year. The Ship Canal was a major engineering feat, as it involved cutting through the narrow isthmus separating the Door Peninsula from the mainland of Wisconsin. Despite setbacks and challenges, including funding issues and the harsh Wisconsin winters, construction on the canal continued, and by 1878, the waters of Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan finally met.
Although the canal was not yet ready to accept ships, the progress made in its construction created a sense of urgency to construct navigational aids for Sturgeon Bay, as it was anticipated that ship traffic would greatly increase with the opening of the canal. The site of Sherwood Point was ultimately chosen for the location of a lighthouse, due to its position on a 30-foot bluff above the water on the north side of Sturgeon Bay. This location would help guide ships as they navigated between Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay, making it an ideal spot for a navigational aid.
Construction of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse
In 1881, Congress approved $12,000 to construct the lighthouse. However, construction did not commence until 1883 due to title disputes over the land that had been selected for the lighthouse. Once the issues were resolved, construction began, and the lighthouse was built using red brick, which was different from the typical cream-city brick used for other lighthouses in Door County.
The Sherwood Point Lighthouse consists of a one-and-a-half-story, end-gabled keeper’s dwelling with a shed-roofed kitchen addition on one side and a lighthouse tower on the other side. The tower stands at 37 feet tall and is capped by a cylindrical lantern room. The lighthouse was fitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, which was manufactured by the Henry-Lepaute company of Paris, France.
It was first lit on October 10, 1883, and its light had a focal plane of 61 feet above Lake Michigan. The light’s characteristic was a fixed white light, which was visible for 14 miles. Over time, the lighthouse underwent several modifications, including the addition of a fog signal building in 1892 and a radio beacon in 1935.
Life as a Keeper
Life as a lighthouse keeper at the Sherwood Point Lighthouse was comparatively easier than many other lighthouses, thanks to its close proximity to the City of Sturgeon Bay, which was easily accessible. This accessibility also meant that the keepers had access to amenities that many other lighthouses did not have early on, such as electricity, which was installed in the early 1930s. However, life was still challenging for the keepers at Sherwood Point Lighthouse.
One major difficulty was the mechanical problems that plagued the light apparatus, which was not fully resolved until it was replaced in 1898. Before that, keepers had to constantly attend to the equipment, making sure it was in proper working order and lighting the lamp at the right time every evening. The keepers also had to carry fuel up to the light to keep it burning.
In addition to their duties at the Sherwood Point Lighthouse, keepers were also responsible for checking the tower light and fog signal located at the Peshtigo Reef, which was several miles away. After 1935, keepers had to boat out to the reef to perform these checks. This added to the workload and made life even more challenging for the keepers.
Despite the difficulties they faced, the keepers at Sherwood Point Lighthouse took pride in their work and recognized the importance of their role in guiding ships safely through the treacherous waters of Lake Michigan. They worked long hours and endured harsh weather conditions to ensure that the light was always shining brightly.
Automation to Today
In 1983, the Sherwood Point Lighthouse became the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes to be automated. This meant that the light could be operated remotely, and the need for a keeper was eliminated. Today, the lighthouse is still an operational navigational aid for ships traveling through the waters of Lake Michigan.
While the building and grounds of the lighthouse are not typically available for public tours, it is still possible to see the lighthouse from the water or from a distance on land. However, the lighthouse has found a new purpose as part of the Coast Guard’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program. Members of the military can rent the lighthouse as a vacation home, allowing them to enjoy the historic atmosphere and breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
The Sherwood Point Lighthouse is a testament to the importance of navigational aids and the role they played in the development of the Great Lakes region. While the lighthouse may no longer be manned, its automated light continues to guide ships safely through the waters of Lake Michigan. As a cherished part of Door County’s history and a unique vacation rental opportunity, the Sherwood Point Lighthouse is a true gem of the Great Lakes
Frequently Asked Questions
No, typically the buildings and grounds are not open to the public, but it can be seen from the water or during the Door County Lighthouse festival.
It was automated in 1983, making it the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes.
It is currently part of the Coast Guard’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program and is rented out as a vacation home for members of the military.
- The Sherwood Point Lighthouse was built in 1883 after the construction of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal made it necessary to guide ships.
- It was constructed with red brick instead of cream-city brick used in other Door County lighthouses and was fitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lense.
- Life at the lighthouse was difficult, but made easier by the accessibility of nearby Sturgeon Bay and its amenities.
- The lighthouse was automated in 1983, making it the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes, and is still operational today.
- Visiting the Sherwood Point Lighthouse is usually difficult, but it can be seen by water or rented as a vacation home for members of the military, and is sometimes open during the Door County Lighthouse Festival.