Community group shines new light on an old friend
The illuminated Allen-Bradley clock may be the candle on the water for boaters coming to Milwaukee's shores these days, but the North Point Lighthouse lit the way for decades and soon may become a public historic landmark.
North Point Lighthouse Friends, a collaboration of members of community organizations Water Tower Landmark Trust and Lake Park Friends, is trying to raise about $750,000 to restore the lighthouse and keepers' quarters and open them to the public.
The lighthouse, located in Lake Park on Milwaukee's east side, was built in 1885, and keepers' quarters were added in 1879. It wasn't Milwaukee's first lighthouse -- one had been built in the 1830s on the corner of Wisconsin and Prospect Avenues. But legend has it that lighthouse was shut down because the keeper was running a casino and possibly a brothel out of the lighthouse. So, the U.S. Coast Guard, which owns the lighthouses of the U.S., decided to build a new one on about two acres in what is now Lake Park.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1994, with one of the reasons being that a marketing study indicated that boaters more often used the Allen-Bradley clock tower than the lighthouse for guidance, according to Milwaukee County Supervisor Penny Podell. Part of the decommissioning process is to transfer ownership of the property to local government or a private buyer. Milwaukee County officials agreed to provide for historic preservation of the lighthouse as long as it would not be a burden on taxpayers. The county will take ownership of the property next spring, Podell said in a recent interview with OnMilwaukee.com.
Restoration without taxation should be achieved with the help of North Point Lighthouse Friends, which began working with the county in regard to the lighthouse in 1994. In addition to raising the money to restore and preserve the lighthouse, the organization also plans to make the lighthouse self-sufficient. Meeting rooms and offices will be created within the lighthouse to be rented to community and historic organizations. The keepers' quarters will be renovated to house a gallery of lighthouse, Lake Park and maritime memorabilia. The lighthouse and keepers' quarters will be open to the public.
North Point Lighthouse Friends has raised about $40,000 since its fundraising campaign began last year, said Marcia Coles, a board member of Lake Park Friends and member of North Point Lighthouse Friends. The goal is to raise the full $750,000 within the next year, she added.
Restoration of the lighthouse will include repainting the interior and exterior, refitting the crow's nest to accommodate public tours and the installation of decorative lighting. The keepers' quarters will be completely renovated, inside and out. Also, a breezeway that once connected the lighthouse to the keepers' quarters will be rebuilt.
Although in the past there has been talk of moving the lighthouse downtown, that won't happen, Podell said. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one with the land it's on. Therefore, the land and the lighthouse cannot be separated, according to Podell.
The lighthouse is historic in terms of the building itself and the people who operated it. It used a Fresnel lens, which the Coast Guard has removed because such lenses aren't made anymore. Also, in the late 1800s the lighthouse had a woman as its keeper, unusual for the time period. The woman took over the keeper's duties from her father, Podell said.
Preserving a piece of Milwaukee's history for public use is one of the main ideas driving the North Point Lighthouse Friends, Coles said.
"It's a public park, and therefore the lighthouse should be open to the public. The public should be able to have the fun of climbing up to the top of a lighthouse and seeing the view."Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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