Our Door County: The Stories Behind the Lights
Lighthouses are among the most recognizable images of Door County and they happen to be one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions. These beacons on the shore offer more than a great photo. Learn about their rich history that helped the success of early industry in Northeastern Wisconsin.
Discover the historical significance of Door County Lighthouses in the latest video in the Our Door County series, Stories Behind the Lights.
“These really are Door County’s most historically significant structures,” says director Brett Kosmider. “It was fascinating to dig into the remarkable stories of the people who kept the light in the early years, and how vital these were to the growth of the area.”
Maritime history is a large part of what makes Door County what it is today. Communities grew up around ports because they were transportation centers and because of the raw materials found there, primarily lumber and stone. Lighthouses helped make those industries (and early tourism via steamer) possible, because just as the Niagara Escarpment makes Door County a beautiful place to visit, it also makes it treacherous for mariners.
“Everything was done by boat,” explained Amy Paul, Executive Director of the Door County Maritime Museum and Lighthouse Preservation Society. “In the 1850s, lighthouses were built to protect the shipping industry and their cargo. As trade became a bigger part of life on the peninsula, more shipments meant lighthouses were essential to protect mariners from the geological nature of our shores. Each of our Door County lighthouses are different – a Lake Michigan lighthouse at lake level was taller and differed from a shorter bluff lighthouse. The lighthouses were also created differently to act as landmarks because people had to be able to recognize them to know where they were without the modern conveniences of GPS.”
Hear the gritty stories of the keepers who trudged up the tower steps twice a day with gas to refuel the lights, or who lived a lonely existence manning the lights on the islands that surround the peninsula. Find out how the lighthouses made the waters of Death’s Door and elsewhere navigable, and see these landmarks from a new angle in Our Door County: Stories Behind the Lights.
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