Saturday, May 15, 2010

Evolution of a Lighthouse

Lighthouses have a following. Some think them romantic; others think of them in the context of adventure and the high seas. I am not smitten with lighthouses except for the one that says ‘home’ to me when I see it, yet when I heard about the opening of the newly restored Southport Lighthouse, I had to go see it. They have been working on its restoration for quite a while and it finally opened this weekend.

The lighthouse dates back to 1866, but it is not the first lighthouse in the Kenosha harbor. Actually, Kenosha, which used to be called Southport, has had some kind of beacon reaching out into Lake Michigan since 1837, when a 10-foot oak tree was set on fire every night during shipping season. I learned that from the museum display inside the newly restored lighthouse keeper’s house. That’s an artist's rendition of it above.

The 1866 lighthouse could house two families, one upstairs, and one downstairs. Kenosha couldn’t have been such a bad assignment for a lighthouse keeper because it was near a thriving town. I remember a few years ago visiting the lighthouse at Raspberry Island in the Apostle Islands, and the keeper there was isolated for weeks on end. Even today at that sight, in the summer an employee of the National Park Service is out there alone, except for the tourists who come during the day. I suppose it’s a great summer job for a college student who wants to spend the summer reading, writing, or just contemplating. As a full time job for a family, I’m not so sure it was.

The current lighthouse, The North Pier Lighthouse, the one I always show pictures of and means I’m back home, dates back to 1906. It wasn’t always red, but I happen to like that it is now. You can learn more about it on-line at various sites. The new museum at the 1866 Southport Lighthouse traces the history of the Kenosha Harbor, and also has some displays of different kinds of lighthouse lenses.

My husband and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to which lighthouse we like best. I like the North Pier one best – I like that it is red and how it looks against the water and sky behind it. He likes the old brick of the Southport Lighthouse. If you are in our area, you should come and see them both as well as see the exhibits at lighthouse. Then you can decide for yourself which is more romantic or adventurous. Either way, it’s worth an hour of your time.

No comments: