Pottawatomie Light

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Pottawatomie Light
Potawatomi lighthouse.jpg
Potawatomi Lighthouse 2004
Pottawatomie Light is located in Wisconsin
Pottawatomie Light
LocationRock Island, Door County, Wisconsin
Coordinates45°25′39″N 86°49′41″W / 45.42750°N 86.82806°W / 45.42750; -86.82806Coordinates: 45°25′39″N 86°49′41″W / 45.42750°N 86.82806°W / 45.42750; -86.82806[1]
Year first lit1836
Tower shapeSquare, integral with keeper house[2]
Markings / patternnatural with black lantern
Tower height41 feet (12 m)[3]
Focal height159 feet (48 m)[4]
Original lensFresnel lens
Range7 nautical miles (13 km; 8.1 mi)[1]
CharacteristicFl W 4s 159 Light is obscured from 275° to 020° by dense foliage[5]
ARLHS numberUSA-664[6][7]
USCG number7-21425
Heritageplace listed on the National Register of Historic Places Edit this on Wikidata
Pottawatomie Lighthouse
Nearest cityWashington Island, Wisconsin
Area2 acres (0.81 ha)
NRHP reference #79000074[8]
Added to NRHPApril 20, 1979

Pottawatomie Lighthouse, also known as the Rock Island Light, is located in Rock Island State Park, on Rock Island in Door County, Wisconsin. Lit in 1836, it is the oldest light station in Wisconsin and on Lake Michigan. It was served by civilian light keepers from 1836 to the 1940s, at which point it was taken over by the US Coast Guard.


The first lighthouse on the spot was a structure built in 1836. It was demolished in the late 1850s and replaced by the existing lighthouse. The current building was first lit in 1858 and continued as an active aid to navigation until 1988, when it was replaced with a modern skeletal tower and automated system.[9]

It is the oldest lighthouse in Door County,[10] which has the most lighthouses of any Wisconsin county.[11]

The lighthouse was restored by the Friends of Rock Island Lighthouse.[11] It is open for tours during the summer as the Pottawatomie Lighthouse Museum. The lighthouse has been restored to a state illustrating its appearance circa 1882-1910. The restoration was performed with the help from the non-profit Friends Of Rock Island State Park.[12] It now serves as a museum that is open for tours daily from Memorial Day to Columbus Day 10am to 4pm.

The lighthouse was listed as Pottawatomie Lighthouse in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, as reference #79000074. The fresnel lens, lost after the lighthouse was shut down in the late 1980s, was replaced by a plexiglass copy in 1999.

Getting there[edit]

Visiting Rock Island requires a commitment of at least a day, and is as difficult as any location in Wisconsin. It is said to be worth the trip.[11]

In the Door Peninsula: Highway 42 north to its terminus at the Northport Ferry pier. Book passage on the Washington Island Ferry Line's car ferry "SS Robert Noble" for a thirty-minute crossing to Washington Island. The trip offers distant views of Pilot Island, Plum Island and Detroit Island.

Upon arrival at Washington Island, drive north on Lobdell Point Road, which becomes Main Road. Take Main Road north, thence right on Jackson Harbor Road. Follow Jackson Harbor until you reach its end at the Rock Island Ferry dock. Park your vehicle.

Board the Rock Island Ferry. Vehicles are not allowed, and this is solely a passenger ferry named "Karfi" for the 15 minute trip to Rock Island. You will have to follow trails for about a mile or more. Ask for directions. "When encountering any branches in the trail along the way, always take the left branch, staying atop the bluff to the lighthouse."[13]

On Rock Island only backpack camping is permitted. Few overnight accommodations are on Washington Island.[11]



  1. ^ a b Light List, Volume VII, Great Lakes (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard. 2014.
  2. ^ "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Wisconsin". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office.
  3. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Tower Heights". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com.
  4. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Database of Focal Heights". Seeing the Light. terrypepper.com.
  5. ^ Light List, Volume VII, Great Lakes (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard.
  6. ^ "Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society, Pottawatomie (Rock Island) (Lake Michigan) Light ARLHS USA-664".
  7. ^ "Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society, World List of Lights". Archived from the original on 2009-04-21.
  8. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
  9. ^ Wardius, Ken and Wardius, Barb (2000). Wisconsin Lighthouses: A Photographic & Historical Guide, pp. 60-61. Big Earth Publishing. ISBN 1-879483-60-2.
  10. ^ Door County Maritime Museum, Pottawatomie Lighthouse (Rock Island) history.
  11. ^ a b c d Wobser, David, Pottawatomie (Rock Island) Light, at Boatnerd.
  12. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of the United States: Eastern Wisconsin". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  13. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Seeing the Light: Pottawatomie (Rock Island) Lighthouse, Wisconsin".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]