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Pottawatomie Light

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S: Pottawatomie Lighthouse ~ Rock Island, Wisconsin

FC: Pottawatomie Lighthouse Rock Island, Wisconsin

1: From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, 20 families each spend a week at this historic lighthouse and give tours to visitors. These photos are my testament to a week without electricity or indoor plumbing and is dedicated to all the people I met while having the time of my life! Becky Zastrow | Docent: (pronounced doe-cent) definition ~ historical tour guide

2: Drawing of the original 1836 light tower and keeper's cottage

3: Pottawatomie Lighthouse History | 1834 - Detroit merchants petition Congress for a lighthouse to aid their ships passing through to Green Bay. 1836 - Wisconsin's first lighthouse was built on Rock Island, consisting of a 30 foot tall light tower & small keeper's cottage. David Corbin is appointed as keeper. 1852 - The first keeper ~ David Corbin dies at his post. Inspectors find the light tower & cottage are in danger of collapse because of poor mortar used in construction. 1858 - The lighthouse is demolished and rebuilt. The new one is designed to house a keeper & assistant keeper and made the light tower part of the building. 1881 - The summer kitchen is added on and 2 cisterns built below to hold rainwater. This made it much easier on keepers who would otherwise have to haul buckets of water up from the lake. 1904 - Phone cable is installed to connect the lighthouse with other islands in the area. Oil house is added. 1909 - A well is drilled near the lighthouse, which finally solves the water issues after several dry summers. 1946 - The Coast Guard takes over all the lighthouses in America and the last civilian keeper leaves. The light is eventually automated to battery power. 1988 - A steel tower with an automated flashing solar beacon is built next to the lighthouse. The lighthouse lantern room is dismantled. 1994 - 2004 The lighthouse undergoes extensive restoration and the lantern room is rebuilt to house a new replica lens. It reopened for tours on May 17, 2004.

4: View from the Karfi ferry dock on Washington Island. The passenger ferry only takes people, pets and gear to Rock Island. No vehicles are allowed, not even bicycles.

5: Views of the Thordarson Boathouse. It was built on Rock Island between 1926-1929 by wealthy electrical industrialist Chester Hjortur Thordarson.

6: "Great Hall" inside the boathouse features beautiful Icelandic carved furniture, and a HUGE fireplace! | Carved Horn chandelier | Thordarson's desk

8: Pagoda-style pavillion near the boathouse shows Thordarson's love for Japanese architecture. | State Park Gate

9: Stone wall along Thordarson's property was meant to keep deer out of his gardens. (It didn't work!)

10: Norse Gate (halfway to the lighthouse) built by Thordarson as a gateway to his hunting lodge (which is no longer standing). | Beautiful views of Lake Michigan along the trail to the lighthouse.

11: The lighthouse awaits! | Information plaque in front of the lighthouse.

12: Side view of the lighthouse built in 1858. | Visitors are requested to take their shoes off.

13: Info wall in the summer kitchen has photos & info about the keepers and drawings of the original and current lighthouse. | Merchandise case in the summer kitchen. Tours are free, so the lighthouse is maintained through donations and merchandise sales.

14: Restored antique icebox, wood bin & wood stove in the keeper's kitchen. | The china hutch holds a replica set of Federal Lighthouse dinnerware. A set of china was given to each lighthouse in America when they were built.

15: Photos of the kitchen showing 1881 sink with hand pump, kitchen table & a "hoosier" which features gravity-feed flour storage with sifter and a pull-out work table.

16: Many of the early keepers were paid less than a dollar a day, but they also received food rations which were delivered to them periodically. This list shows the weekly allowance for each keeper. Since most of the rations consisted of dried, salted or canned food ~ many keepers planted large vegetable gardens, kept chickens & livestock, and hunted or fished to provide fresh food for their table.

17: Antique gramaphone in the corner of the parlor once played wax cylinders to provide music on quiet nights. | Lovely antiques in the parlor. The lighthouse sat empty for many years, so most of the original furniture is gone. Antiques were brought in to restore the lighthouse to the 1910 era.

18: Keeper's parlor features this item known as a stereopticon or stereoscope. It made photos appear to be 3-D when viewed through the device. | Since a lighthouse was considered a federal building, they were required to display the president's photo. President Taft is pictured here because the lighthouse is restored to the 1910 era.

19: Sunset view through the parlor window. The steel tower is the current light station, and features a flashing solar beacon to aid boaters.

20: Downstairs keeper's bedroom with lovely handmade quilts. | Here I am giving a tour in the keeper's bedroom. My hand rests on a cabinet that stored extra glass panes for the lantern room windows.

21: Plaque about Frank Sawyer ~ the first keeper to live in the rebuilt 1858 lighthouse. | One can still see where he carved his name in the bricks over the doorway of the lighthouse, using a masonic symbol in the process. By researching his freemason records, we were able to find out his birth, death, marriage and military info. The Lighthouse Authority preferred lightkeepers to have some military experience so they would be used to a regimented life & be able to read and write. But Frank Sawyer waited until after his lighthouse duty, and went on to serve in the Civil War.

22: Library boxes would be brought along with food and supplies every few months. Because of all the books, lighthouse keepers & their families were considered quite educated.

23: Upstairs child's bedroom. | Assistant keeper's bedroom upstairs features this quilt which once belonged to Indian chief Oshkosh.

24: Assistant keeper's parlor has been converted into another bedroom. | Asst. keeper's kitchen shows before/after photos of the restoration work done here. The light was automated to battery power after World War 2, so the house sat empty for over 50 years and needed lots of work.

25: Antique sewing machine | This original cast-iron wood stove had been stored in the basement when the lighthouse was closed up. It has now been restored and put back in it's rightful spot in the Assistant Keeper's kitchen.

26: Antique highchair and telephone. Phone service was installed in 1904 and connected Pottawatomie lighthouse with Washington Island, and the Plum Island & Pilot Island lighthouses. | A variety of oil cans used for storing kerosene and re-fueling the lantern.

27: Keeper's desk & logbook on the 3rd floor landing. The bugle served as a "foghorn" to warn ships if they were getting too close to the rocky shore. | Looking up into the lantern room at the 4th Order Fresnel lens. | Very steep stairs (more like a ladder) going up into the lantern room.

28: Beautiful lantern room views! | Light from the 4th order Fresnel lens could be seen 14 nautical miles.

30: View of the basement schoolroom. Several of the keeper's wives supplemented their family income by teaching the local fishermen's children. | Old workbench and tools... | Old parlor stove in the basement.

31: Tricks of the light... the sun's rays shine through the lantern lens, making it appear to be lit from within. (No light shines from this lantern room anymore...)

32: This is the original 1836 outhouse, built the same time as the first lighthouse. The original light tower & keeper's cottage were demolished in 1858 because of bad mortar used in construction. This outhouse survived, and is considered the oldest structure in Door County. This is the modern *5 Star* outhouse in use now. It features a composting toilet and a solar-powered fan, so there is no smell!

33: Getting fresh water was a problem at the lighthouse for many years, until this well was installed in 1909. It was taken out of service in 2015, and replaced with a solar-powered one. | This smokehouse sits just east of the lighthouse. Keepers used it to smoke meat and fish. | This red brick oilhouse once stored kerosene for use in the lantern. Whale oil and lard were also used as lantern fuel.

34: Overlooking the rocky beach where many of the early keepers got their water for household use. | Looking down the steep stairway to the rocky lakeshore near the lighthouse. It's a total of 154 wood & stone steps from top to bottom.

35: Small cliffside cave below the lighthouse. It's believed that the keepers may have used it to store ice. | Rock Island is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, grey fox, squirrels, wild turkey, and even some bald eagles!

36: A small cemetery east of the lighthouse holds the grave of the first keeper, David Corbin. He was given 3 weeks leave to find a wife, but no luck ~ he died a bachelor. | This water tower was built by Thordarson on the east side of the island.

37: Detailed rock carvings can be found on the south end of the island. Some are believed to have been made by Potawatomi Indians, and others possibly made by Thordarson's wood carver.

40: Rock Island in winter! | Thordarson Boathouse | Thordarson's Norse Gate

41: Pottawatomie Light

42: Getting there.......... | Rock Island sits at the northern-most tip of Door County, Wisconsin. Take Highway 42 through Door County ending at the Northport Pier, and take the car ferry to Washington Island. Drive to Jackson Harbor on Washington Island's north side and take the Karfi passenger ferry to Rock Island. Once you land at the boathouse, follow the trail on the left 1.25 miles up to the lighthouse.

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  • By: Rebecca Z.
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  • Title: Pottawatomie Light
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  • Published: over 4 years ago

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