WIND POINT — Two Wisconsin lighthouse historians on Saturday gave the Racine community high marks for preserving one historic lighthouse, but also expressed regret that another local lighthouse has been lost to the wrecking ball.
Ken and Barb Wardius of Glendale gave a lecture and slide show on Wisconsin lighthouse history Saturday at the iconic Wind Point Lighthouse as the culminating event of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s History Tour, which included a variety of events in the area during the past week, most held at the Racine Public Library.
“We could have done this (the lighhouse lecture) at the library, but it wouldn’t have been the same,” said Jim Draeger, director of outreach for the state Historical Society.
The Wardiuses have been researching the state’s 48 lighthouses since 1998, after becoming fascinated with the Cana Island lighthouse in Door County. They have published several books about lighthouses including one on the Wind Point Lighthouse for the Acadia Publishing Images of America series, available at Barnes & Noble. The couple has just also revamped and re-released their book “Wisconsin Lighthouses: A Photographic and Historical Guide.”
Lighthouses capture the attention and appreciation of many, the Wardiuses said, because they represent a sense of security, maritime history, dedication and dependability.
“When you see a lighthouse it brings a sense of security and comfort, I think,” Ken Wardius said. “They are structures of dependability.”
About a dozen people attended Saturday’s presentation, which started with an overview of lighthouses on the state’s other Great Lake — Superior. The first lighthouse shown was the one at Wisconsin Point at the Port of Superior, which the legendary ore ship the Edmund Fitzgerald passed on its fateful voyage in 1975.
From there, the Wardiuses discussed their adventures in trying to travel in one day in not the best weather to all eight of the lighthouses in the Apostle Islands, which have more than any other National Park, the couple said.
The couple then briefly moved inland to discuss the four lighthouses on Lake Winnebago, including the privately owned and very ornate lighthouse at Rockwell Point, where the Fox River flows into Lake Winnebago. President William Howard Taft once visited the site, the Wardiuses said.
Next it was on to Door County, where 11 lighthouses are located — one of the highest concentrations of lighthouses in the nation, the couple said. The lighthouses, however, vary in condition and accessibility. For example, the lighthouses on Plum and Pilot islands at the tip of Door County are shuttered and accessible only by private boats. But Cana Island’s lighthouse north of Bailey’s Harbor is open for tours and is a “picture postcard,” said Ken Wardius, and also has one of the few remaining Fresnel light lenses in operation. (A static display of the Frensel lens that once was used at Wind Point is on display at the Wind Point Village Hall on the lighthouse grounds).
The Wardiuses also talked briefly about some of the lighthouse keepers who worked at maintaining the waterway beacons from the mid 19th century into the mid 20th century before automation and technology eliminated their jobs. The lighthouse keepers were mostly male, but a few women assisted or ran the lighthouse in their own right, like Georgia Stebbins, who ran Milwaukee’s North Point Lighthouse for 35 years.
While the Wardiuses had high praise for the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse and the Village of Wind Point in preserving one of the Racine area’s signature edifices, they lamented the loss of the Reefpoint Lighthouse, a unique Victorian structure that guarded the mouth of Racine’s harbor from 1906 until 1966. Draeger said the structure was lost just as Congress was passing the Historical Preservation Act.
“If you see color pictures of it, it was just gorgeous,” said Ken Wardius. “Don’t get me going on Reefpoint. It’s such a shame.”