Port lighthouse named to list of historic national landmarks

Officials hope designation will help secure grants for restoration of pierhead light

The Port Washington lighthouse, shrouded in fog on a late summer day, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The City of Port Washington received an early Christmas present this year — the city’s lighthouse has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, mayor Marty Becker announced Tuesday.

The designation was expected by the city since the lighthouse was named to the State Register of Historical Places earlier this year, but officials were thrilled by the announcement.

“It’s very important,” Becker said. “The breakwater and lighthouse are symbols of the city.”

The designation will not only provide protections to the lighthouse, it could also pave the way for grant funds to restore the structure, he said.

“It would be nice,” Becker said. “We’re looking at $1.1 million to do the breakwater, so it would be nice if we could get some money for maintenance and repairs of the lighthouse itself.”

Until the breakwater project is completed, providing safe passage to the lighthouse, the city isn’t likely to begin work on the beacon, he added.

“We don’t know what the cost of the breakwater work is yet,” Becker said. “We have to see where that’s at to see what we can do with the lighthouse.”

The city, which took over ownership of the lighthouse in spring, has a list of restoration and maintenance projects, including replacement of the porthole windows and painting the structure — a task that could cost more than $1 million.

The city has raised about $15,000, or half the needed funds, to replace the windows, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

A group has approached the city on behalf of someone who is interested in helping pay for some of the lighthouse restoration work, he said. That potential benefactor wants to remain anonymous, he added.

“There’s definitely interest in doing something,” Grams said.

In addition to paving the way for restoration work on the lighthouse, the historical designation is likely to draw more people to the city and the lakefront, Grams said.

“It gives the lighthouse more status,” he said. “The designation is important because that’s what people tend to look at, especially history buffs.”

The lighthouse was built in 1935, one of eight Great Lakes lighthouses built between 1934 and 1950 to a standard design developed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service specifically for use on the  Great Lakes, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. 

It features Art Moderne stylistic influences such as curved design elements, circular porthole windows that reference its maritime origins and chamfered corners that hearken to the curved corners on many Art Moderne-style buildings.

“This lighthouse is a striking example reflecting the early twentieth century period of maritime history,” according to the society.

State Rep. Rob Brooks hailed the designation Monday, saying, “I can think of no landmark in the 60th Assembly District that is more deserving of historic designation status than the Port Washington north breakwater light.”

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