Towers play an essential role in our nation’s maritime history. Active signal towers, watch towers, and light towers once dotted America’s coastlines, including Lake Michigan. These historic maritime structures continue to fascinate, and those that are still standing are treasured popular visitor destinations. But why?
The best known of the historic maritime towers is the light tower or “lighthouse.” They are found at the entrance of major harbors, atop a remote shoal or island, or looming over the craggy outcroppings of our coastlines. Practically speaking, they are navigation aids. But culturally, they are much more than that, and there is something elusive about lighthouses that fascinates people: they are our direct link to the past, but they also served a truly heroic purpose.
Lighthouses saved lives, protecting mariners as they approached rocky shores in the midst of fog and darkness. Their history is tales of lives saved and the solitary lives lived within their walls by lighthouse keepers’ families. The open sea can be beautiful, but also eerie and disquieting — thus a flashing light in the distance has always been a symbol of hope and comfort. The stalwart lighthouse keeper tending the light during foul weather, and his life of hardship, simply adds to the mystique; the often remote location, where land meets sea, compounds the magic.
In Door County, we have some of the best-preserved lighthouses and other maritime navigation structures in the U.S. There are fascinating, inspiring tales associated with each one of them. Start your vacation in this beautiful place by visiting the Door County Maritime Museum (www.dcmm.org) in Sturgeon Bay, where you can explore the Peninsula’s true history in full, a history dominated by ships, shipbuilding, and commercial fishing…basically, the story of a large island in the “big lake” the Ojibwa Indians called Michigami.
–By Bob Desh