History

Below is a timeline of the history of the lighthouse.

 

1851–1886

1851 Present two-acre site from Wahl Avenue to the lakeshore was acquired by the U.S. Lighthouse Service for a cost of $1000.

1855 Original North Point Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters were built of cream city brick and officially opened November 22, 1855. The 28-foot tower built on the bluff put the elevation of the beacon 107 feet above water, the highest on the Great Lakes. A Milwaukee Sentinel article at that time reported that the lens in the lighthouse was a Fourth Order Fresnel lens manufactured by Barbier, Benard & Turenne of Paris.
1868 The original lens was replaced and the lantern room rebuilt. Most likely the new lens was also a Fourth Order Fresnel lens by the same manufacturer.

1870s When shore erosion caused 16 feet of the Lighthouse’s front yard to break loose and drop to the beach, the government decided to build a new lighthouse 100 feet inland.

1886 On August 4, Congress approved $15,000 to build the present Lighthouse and frame the Keeper’s Quarters.

1888–1909

1888 Construction was completed December 20, 1887, and the new tower was lighted on the night of January 10, 1888. The new Lighthouse was built with a 39-foot high octagon shaped structure constructed entirely of bolted cast iron sections. The 1868 lens was placed in the new Lighthouse. The present Keeper’s Quarters were built by 1888.

1893 Lake Park was being designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, premier 19th Century American landscape architect. North Point Lighthouse, surrounded by two acres of land, divided Lake Park into two sections. Before Lake Park could be freely traversed by carriage road, the park commissioners had to obtain permission from the federal government in Washington D.C. In 1893, efforts led by the commissioners and Wisconsin Senator John L. Mitchell resulted in permission to complete the Olmsted plan without disturbing the Lighthouse’s function. This allowed a carriage road and two bridges to be built east of the Lighthouse.

1900 Trees growing in Lake Park along the shore began to obscure the light from mariners on Lake Michigan.

1907 On June 30, an Act of Congress stopped funding for the Lighthouse and the light was turned off. The reason given was difficulty seeing the light. August 20, 1907, the Merchants and Manufacturers Association of Milwaukee met with Major William V. Judson of the United States Engineering Corps to consider action to put the light back in operation and maintain it privately.

1909 On March 4, an appropriation of $10,000 was included in a sundry civil bill to raise the tower. The Lighthouse board restored operation of the light.

1912–1984

1912 Work began in July to build a 35-foot steel structure next to the old Lighthouse. When the steel structure was finished, the old light tower with its 1868 lens was reassembled on top of the new structure, making the tower 74-feet high. The work was sufficiently completed to allow the light to be placed back into service on December 15. In April 1913, the work was finished under budget at a cost of $9,455.

1913 On July 1, the mineral oil illuminate was changed to coal gas.

1929 The gas illuminate was changed from city gas to electricity.

1937 Keeper duties assumed by newly-created U.S. Coast Guard.

1980 North Point Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters were placed on the National Register of Historic Lighthouses.

1984 North Point Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1994–2000

1994 The Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters are taken out of service by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the 1928 Fresnel lens was removed and stored by the U.S. Coast Guard at Milwaukee.

1996 Community organizations in Milwaukee laid the groundwork for restorations and began planning for appropriate use of the Lighthouse, Keeper’s Quarters and bluff-top site.

1997 Milwaukee County Parks Department applied to the U.S. National Park Service and General Services Administration to acquire the site for historic preservation and park purposes.

1999 Milwaukee County approved the grant of an option to lease the Lighthouse, Keeper’s Quarters and bluff top site to Water Tower Preservation Fund Inc.

2000 Fund raising efforts began for historic restoration of the Lighthouse and historic renovation of the Keeper’s Quarters.

2002–Present

2002 On January 15, North Point Lighthouse Friends, Inc. was incorporated.

2002 North Point Lighthouse Friends, with Milwaukee County as sponsor, applied for and obtained Transportation Enhancement Funding for restoration costs.

2003 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources accepted and granted closure for lead in soil cleanup on Lighthouse grounds. United States Government transferred ownership of the Lighthouse to Milwaukee County.

2003 On October 13th, the US Coast Guard officially transferred ownership of the 2-acre lighthouse property to Milwaukee County, making it formally and permanently part of Lake Park.

2003 July 21 – Milwaukee County Board accepted Transportation Enhancement funding and committed to complete the restoration. North Point Lighthouse Friends committed to raise 20% local matching funds and any excess costs.

2004 March 10th – North Point Lighthouse Friends exercised option for long term lease of lighthouse and grounds from Milwaukee County.

2004 April – Milwaukee County and North Point Lighthouse Friends began design phase of restoration.

2006 February – Lighthouse tower restoration completed.

2007 Restoration of lighthouse keeper’s quarters began.

2007 November – Lighthouse reopened.

2009 Fall North Lion Bridge rebuilt and reopened. Original Fourth Order Fresnel Lens from 1928 placed on exhibit. Rain garden on west lawn installed to filter storm water.

2010 Summer – Flagpole dedication by US Coast Guard.

2010 Summer – “The Dig” – search for the 1855 lighthouse foundation on the bluff north of the Cannonade — begins

2011 Fall – South Lion Bridge and Cannonade rebuilt and reopened.

2012 Spring – Restored Lion Bridges Rededicated

2012 Spring – Milwaukee Museum Mile Inauguration

2012 Summer – Blue Star Museum Status