Racine Reef Light

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Racine Reef Light
Racine Reef Light (USCG)
Location Lake Michigan east of Racine
Coordinates 42°43′39.18″N 87°44′10.02″W / 42.7275500°N 87.7361167°W / 42.7275500; -87.7361167[1]
Year first constructed 1906[2]
Automated 1954[2]
Deactivated 1961[2]
Foundation Brick/concrete pier
Construction Brick and concrete
Tower shape octagonal house with central tower
Focal height 72 ft (22 m)[3]
Original lens fourth order Fresnel lens

The Racine Reef Light was a lighthouse located in Lake Michigan some two miles east of Racine, Wisconsin, marking the edge of its eponymous shallows. It was torn down in 1961 and replaced with a skeleton tower on the same foundation.


The Racine Reef is a major hazard to navigation not only for shipping in and out of Racine harbor, but also for traffic between Milwaukee and Chicago. It has been marked with a succession of aids, starting with a can buoy placed in 1869 after a study of erecting a lighthouse on the reef itself found the expense to be too great.[4] Various shore lights were also added including ranges based on the Racine breakwaters and a red beacon mounted on the Wind Point Light. These measures were found to be ineffective, and in 1898 construction began on a beacon set in the center of the reef. This acetylene-powered lamp was placed on a masonry platform resting on a wood crib; the light was first lit on August 31, 1899.[2][4] This arrangement proved quickly to be quite problematic; the light was difficult to service and ever-increasing piles of rip-rap were laid about the platform in attempts to curb erosion and storm damage. In 1901 the beacon's iron tower was also made taller, but the problems continued.[4]

In 1901 the lighthouse board decided that a manned light was required, and in 1903 obtained a $75,000 appropriation.[4] Construction was protracted: the crib and concrete pier foundation were not completed until 1905. Atop this was erected a three story octagonal brick house with a tower in the center to hold a fourth order Fresnel lens.[2][4] The original steam whistle fog signal was replaced with diaphone foghorns in the mid-1920s.[4] The new tower was placed at the eastern edge of the reef, and upon its activation the old beacon was abandoned.[4]

The light was automated in 1954, but in 1961 the house was demolished due to the difficulties of maintenance.[2] By that point large amounts of rip-rap had been dumped around the pier in order to reduce vibration from waves and to limit winter icing of the structure.[4] A steel tower replaced the house and remains in service. The Fresnel lens was preserved and is displayed at the Racine Heritage Museum.


  1. ^ Light List, Volume VII, Great Lakes (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard. 2013. p. 191. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Wisconsin". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. 
  3. ^ Pepper, Terry. "Focal Heights". Retrieved 2014-07-09. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Pepper, Terry. "Racine Reef Lighthouse". Retrieved 2014-07-09.