History

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, 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 Fund raising 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

2011Fall – 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