Plum Island Range Lights
By Dave Wobser

The Plum Island Range Lights guide vessels into Green Bay from Lake Michigan, through Porte des Morts (Death’s Door Passage). Plum Island was the site of the original (1848) Porte des Morts light, but the light was moved to Pilot Island in 1858. Portions of the foundation of the 1848 lighthouse can be found in the wooded area of the island.

Plum Island remained empty until 1896, when a United States Life Saving Service station was built on the island. The U.S. Life Saving Service station remains and was used until recently as a summer only U.S. Coast Guard station. The Coast Guard has now moved to nearby Washington Island.

The Plum Island Range Lights were installed in 1897. One and one-half acres of dense forest were cut to make room for the light towers, keepers dwelling and fog signal building. In addition, a boathouse, storage building and tramway were also built.

The Rear Light is a white steel tower with a central cylinder surrounded by metal supports stretching from beneath the first walkway to the ground. Atop the cylinder, a larger circular watch room is surrounded by a walkway. Above the watch room, the slightly smaller lantern room protects the still working light. The light-brown brick 2-story keeper's dwelling, with a dark red shingle roof, is near the base of the tower, and is rapidly deteriorating. The light is 80-feet above water level and shines through a fixed Fourth Order Fresnel lens.

A wide path cleared through the thick forest leads 1600 feet to the present (1964) Front Range Light, a small white skeleton tower, with an orange and white day mark, nearly touching the beach on the southeast shore of the island. A small beam of red light shines from the top of the tower. The original front light was a Sixth Order fixed red light that shown through a single window in the front of a small, white, two-story wooden tower. The tower had a square base and octagonal second story like the front range light at Bailey's Harbor.

Dominating a strip of land on the north side of the building is a lifesaving station. A large dwelling with a watch tower above the roofline. At the water's edge is a boathouse with room for three vessels.

Door County, Wisconsin boasts of having more lighthouses than any other county . The Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society hosts an Annual Lighthouse Walk, on a weekend in May, that offers a chance to visit and tour lighthouses not normally open to the public .

Plum Island can be visited on one weekend per year during the Door County Annual Lighthouse Walk. The visit is by ferry from Gill’s Rock and also passes by Pilot Island.

2007 Update
Historic Structures Get a Breath of Hope:
Ownership of Plum and Pilot islands finally transferred

11/7 - Door County, WI - The long battle to save the Plum Island lighthouse took a critical step forward when ownership of Plum and Pilot islands was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Oct. 17.

Plum Island, a 296-acre expanse located between Northport and Washington Island, is home to a century-old lighthouse and a former Coast Guard life-saving station abandoned by the service in 1991 when they moved operations to Washington Island. In the years since the buildings have fallen into sad disrepair.

“It’s very exciting news,” said Tim Sweet, President of Friends of Rock Island State Park and a longtime advocate of saving the structures. Sweet led the effort to restore Rock Island’s Pottawatomie lighthouse and would like to do the same for the historic structures on Plum and Pilot Islands.

Sweet has worked diligently since 1999 to push the transfer process along as it struggled through bureaucratic red tape.

The Fish and Wildlife service has wanted to take control of the abandoned island for years to manage as part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which already includes Spider, Gravel and Hawk islands. The islands are critical sanctuaries for migratory birds.

One of the hurdles in transferring the property was the contamination of soil and water on the island caused by a decades-old incident in which an above-ground diesel fuel tank burst and spilled fuel into the ground. The contamination was finally addressed in 2004, mitigated at a cost of $863,000.

Now Sweet and about 60 others have organized Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, which has begun planning and fundraising to preserve the structures, labeled one of the ten most endangered historic properties in the state in 2000 by the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation.

Sweet said Pilot Island will be the greater challenge because the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t want any public access on the island and it’s further away. Efforts on Plum Island are expected to result in opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, and possibly deer hunting down the road.

Two preservation architects recently visited the islands with the Friends group to determine priorities and possibilities for the islands. Sweet expects to get a report from them in the beginning of November.

Sweet said possibilities for restoration on Plum Island are more promising because the roofs of the structures are in better condition.

“The pier there is one of the priorities we’ve identified,” he explained. “Now we wait for the historic structures report to come back and then we can approach different organizations who might provide funds and grants for the project.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a management plan for the islands, which would impact any restoration and visitation plans.

Those interested in learning more about the effort to preserve the structures on Plum and Pilot Islands or who want to get involved can contact Tim Sweet at tjsweet@charter.net or 715.823.6873.

From the Peninsula Pulse

2008 - Update
The Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands have been granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. See www.plumandpilot.org

Click on image to enlarge

Photographs by Dave Wobser

Location: Plum Island, Wisconsin
Date Built: 1897
Active: Yes

Open to
public:

Yes, once a year.

www.plumandpilot.org

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