Pierhead Light

Milwaukee, Wisconsin | C.1872

Photo Credit: Justin R. Hernandez

Milwaukee sits along a natural indentation on the western shore of Lake Michigan, where the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers merge. In 1848, a “bug light,” or fire safety lamp, was placed on the pier at Milwaukee as a navigational marker.

After complaints about insufficient light, construction of this stout red lighthouse began in 1872. The tower was connected to the keeper’s dwelling by an elevated walkway until the final weeks of 1905, when a windstorm whipped up Lake Michigan, struck the house with full force, and nearly carried the entire structure down the lashing river.

Nobody was hurt—as the keeper held fast to a lifesaving beam—but the community needed to come up with another system. While the resilient lighthouse remained, they had to build a tunnel to access it from the new abode that was built.

Today, Pierhead Light remains active, signaling the mouth of the river to traveling ships. This lone beacon has been automated and now operates by solar power.

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