Celebrate the 130th Anniversary of North Point Lighthouse by visiting our museum this summer!

Interested in the North Point Lighthouse’s rich history? Click the tabs below to reveal information from a time era. Stop by the museum for a docent-led tour to learn even more about our lighthouse, view exhibits and climb the 74ft-tall tower.

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 is built with Cream City brick and officially begins operation on November 2, 1855. The 28-foot tower built on the bluff put the elevation of the beacon 107 feet above the water, the highest on the Great Lakes. A Milwaukee Sentinel article reports 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 causes 16 feet of the Lighthouse’s front yard to break loose and drop to the beach, the government decides to build a new lighthouse 100 feet inland.

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

1888–1909

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

1893 – Lake Park was being designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the 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 begin to obscure the light from mariners on Lake Michigan.

1907 – Congress stops funding the lighthouse after city lights and growth of trees begin to obscure the signal. Merchants and mariners protest, and beacon begins to be operated locally.

1909 – U.S. Lighthouse Board reestablishes federal control of the light station and Congress authorizes $10,000 to double the tower’s height. A temporary wooden tower is constructed to keep the beacon operating while a new steel base is built.

1912–1984

1912 – The new steel structure with the old iron tower attached on top is put into service December 15th, placing the beacon at 74 feet from the ground and 154 feet above Lake Michigan.

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.

1939 – U.S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Lifesaving service become part of the U.S. Coast Guard.

1980 – North Point Lighthouse is placed on the National Register of Historic Lighthouses.

1984 – North Point Lighthouse is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1994–2000

1994 – With the advent of modern navigation equipment, lighthouses are no longer necessary, and North Point Lighthouse is taken out of service.

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

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

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

2000 – Fundraising efforts begin for the historic restoration of the Lighthouse and historic renovation of the Keeper’s Quarters.

2002–Present

2002 – On January 15, 2002, “North Point Lighthouse Friends” is incorporated as a non-profit organization to restore and operate the lighthouse as a historical Milwaukee museum.

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

2003 – Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources accepts and grants closure for the lead in soil cleanup on Lighthouse grounds. United States Government transfers ownership of the Lighthouse to Milwaukee County.

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

2003 – On July 21, 2003, Milwaukee County Board accepts Transportation Enhancement funding and commits to complete the restoration. North Point Lighthouse Friends commits to raising 20% local matching funds and any excess costs.

2004 – On March 10, 2004, North Point Lighthouse Friends exercises the option for a long-term lease of lighthouse and grounds from Milwaukee County.

2004 – In April, Milwaukee County and North Point Lighthouse Friends begin the design phase of restoration.

2007 – Restoration of lighthouse keeper’s quarters begins.

2007 – In November, North Point Lighthouse opens to the public.

2009 – Fall: North Lion Bridge is rebuilt and reopens. Original Fourth Order Fresnel Lens from 1928 is placed on exhibit. The rain garden on the west lawn is 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 is rebuilt and reopens.

2012 – Spring: Restored Lion Bridges Rededicated

2012 – Spring: Milwaukee Museum Mile Inauguration

2012 – Summer: Blue Star Museum Status

North Point Lighthouse History

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