Shining a light on the Milwaukee Shoreline for over a century, the North Point Lighthouse is full of rich history, including the people who kept it running--then, and today.
"In 1855, they came out here to North Point, this is the northern most point of the bay of Milwaukee. They built this structure, right here, of cream city brick with a cast iron lantern room. It was located about 100 feet from here, right out on the bluff. But, by 1888, the bluff had deteriorated to the point where they were ten feet from loosing the lighthouse to the lake," said Curator Mark Kuehn.
Kuehn gave us a tour of the lighthouse museum, showing how the lighthouse changed and grew with its surrounding landscape.
"In the late 1890's Fred Olmsted came to Milwaukee. Now, he designed Central Park in New York City, and he came to Milwaukee and designed Lake Park, Riverside Park, and Washington Park--our first zoo," said Kuehn.
In 1907, the tree line of the newer park got so high that the lighthouse could no longer be seen from the lake. So with some rearranging of parts from the old and new lighthouses, a taller one was built with the original 1855 lantern house on top.
"This is the only lighthouse in the country built out of three lighthouses," said Kuehn.
The people who kept the light on were no less unique. Eli Bates, Milwaukee's first keeper, had a cork prosthesis after losing his leg in childhood--but he still climbed that tower to light that light, every night.
However, it wasn't all hard work for Bates--he was known to throw quite the party.
"They used to say that the light wasn't the only thing that was lit up at night," Kuehn said.
Later on came Georgia Stebbins. She was the first resident keeper in the newer 1888 house, the longest serving lighthouse keeper, assigned there for 26 years, and was the only woman to keep the light on in North Point. Astonishingly, Stebbins took up her duties after she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
"We estimated that, in the time she lived here, she climbed those stairs over 63,900 times," said Kuehn.
North Point functioned as a lighthouse until 1994, when it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard. It stood abandoned for almost a decade until John Scripp, now President of North Point Lighthouse, among others, held a firm belief that it needed to be saved.
"The property should be restored and the area kept for historic preservational park purposes," said Scripp.
After many years of hard work, the North Point Lighthouse was back in operation starting in 2007. It can now be rented for private events, and they offer weekend tours of the museum to the public.
"Part of our tour is to educate people to what happened here," said Scripp.
So, if you have some time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, head down to Lake Park and experience the history of this great beacon.
"This is a place where, in a very, very short time, you'll see that not too long ago, things were very, very different," said Scripp.
The North Point Lighthouse was just featured in a new book called B is for Beacon, A Great Lakes Lighthouse Alphabet, written by Helen L Wilbur and Illustrated by Renee Graef. You can take a look by clicking on this link.