Cana Island Lighthouse

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Located in the Door County Peninsula, is Baileys Harbor. A small summer town, where the streets and various attractions are filled with tourists from all over. Whether it’s the fine cuisine or kayaking on the waters of Lake Michigan, there’s always something to gain one’s interest. One of these attractions dives deep into the history of the area, the Cana Island Lighthouse. Hosted by the Door County Maritime Museum, historians guide and teach visitors of the 148 year old lighthouse history, including its tragedies and its moments of sanctuary.

The Cana Island Lighthouse was built in 1869 on a small island with naturally formed causeway connecting it to the mainland. The island itself is just a little over two miles directly northeast of Baileys Harbor own lighthouse and it was built in response to how inadequate the current Baileys Harbor Lighthouse was operating. Though it took a little over a year for the light itself in the tower to become operational in 1970, as time progressed, innovations and renovations took place at the lighthouse.

The Lantern and Lens

Initially it was a lard based lantern in the lighthouse with a Fresnel lens, the lamp used a lard to keep the fire light in the lantern. Later on the source of the light changed from a lard based fuel to mineral oil and then to kerosene. And once electricity was able to be sent over the causeway in 1934 the reliance on having to constantly fuel the lantern was no longer needed. The one thing that hasn’t changed for the lighthouse is that is has the original Fresnel Lens. Fresnel lens are lenses that are made of specially cut glass that concentrate the light from it’s source and send it outwards. Fresnel lenses are sized in orders, and of the seven orders, the first order reaches the farthest distance and is the brightest, and the opposite can be applied to the seventh order. The Cana Island Lighthouse utilizes the third-order Fresnel lens that allows it to reach twenty-two miles out into Lake Michigan. What determines the size of a Fresnel lens is how far the light will need to reach out. Normally lighthouses on the sea will need to utilize the first-order lens, and lens on a bay typically utilize the smaller seventh-order lens.

The Layout, Structure and Renovations of the Lighthouse

The Cana Island Lighthouse is connected to the Keeper’s dwelling via a sheltered walkway with a large metal access door between the two. The house itself is a one and a half story building, the first floor being for the main Keeper and his family, and the second floor being for the assistant Keeper as well as their family too. The trend that is seen is that the assistant Keeper is main Keeper’s wife or son. Despite these accommodations made by Lighthouse board, living on the island proved to be an inhospitable place and bearing with the storms that have flooded the island made living the life of the lighthouse keeper incredibly challenging. It was in 1884 when the Lighthouse Board decided to eliminate the occasional flooding that wreaked havoc with the lighthouse keeper's, and thus a crew of twenty four workers built a four-hundred foot long barrier that runs parallel with the coast to prevent any more waves from flooding the house keeper's place of living.

The History in Door County

In the mid 19th Century there was a massive logging industry taking hold of Door County. Companies traveled to Door County to supply timber for the growing cities of Milwaukee and Chicago, while people traveled to Door County for the opportunity for work in the logging industry. After the Civil War ended in 1865 this industry metaphorically exploded. And to get all of these trees sent down to the desired city, ships were sent to and from Door County as transport. Though as reliable as this method was for transportation of the cargo, it wasn’t entirely safe. Many of the coasts along the Door County had shallow waters where ships could get stranded rendering them effectively useless. The other dangers were of Door County were the unforgiving waters that often caused shipwrecks. The solution to prevent ships from being caught in shallow waters is to have a lighthouse built to be warning signal of the shallows depths. Yet the lighthouse also stood for a beacon of hope whenever a ship may be in peril.

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