Light Station Restoration Diary
March, 2003
As written by the people working on the restoration.
Unless otherwise identified, the diary author is Linda Nenn,
co-chair of the Restoration Project


March 29, 2003

The spring equinox has come and gone, officially announcing the end of winter and heralding the onset of warmer weather. But, this is Wisconsin, so this week seems pretty much like last week weather wise. At least that is what I've been told as I was in the Panhandle of Florida walking the beach at Tyndall AFB. The silence of my early morning walks was only broken by the sound of training sorties taking off over the Gulf. For the naturalists among us, I can report that the sea turtles haven't laid their eggs yet, the small Florida white tail deer are as plentiful as ever on base and turkey season opened 2 weeks ago. And, if you walk barefoot on the beaches after sundown, not on the base, but on the public beach, the ghost crabs are likely to scurry over your toes if you don't watch your step. Tried a little snorkeling, but with my eyesight all I could see was the sand suspended in the water after a night's blow.

Although Rick Smith and Ron Manns have been putting in many hours at the Station and I have tried not to get in their way, Phase I of the Light Station Restoration is NOT completed. Because we've been working indoors, many locals have the misconception that the main building, tower and lantern are finished. I wish that were the case, but we're still hard at work and at least $35,000 short.

If you are from one of the Light House groups that have been following the Port Washington Project, please get the word out that work continues and donations are sorely needed.

Rick and Ron installed the wainscoting provided by Terry Laib of Oshkosh, WI. Thanks, Terry, for the door locks and wainscoting. If we owe you something, please let me know. I still have about 400 sq ft of 1934 oak flooring that we have to clear out of the generator building.

Last week Rick Smith cut and fit flooring for the lantern. He's now covered with recycled 1834 attic flooring the underlayment that was part of the Luxembourg built lantern. The watch room/tower as built by our Luxembourg craftsmen, had no floor at all when installed last April. The lantern at least had a plywood underlayment so we were able to put off finishing that room.

BIG, BIG NEWS!!! The stairway that leads from the first floor to the second has been completed! As the stairs were nonconforming based on original 1860 drawings, rebuilding them as original was a difficult issue to say the least. Taking the lead from the city building inspector suggestions, I contacted Dale Mitchell at the Wisconsin Dept. of Commerce, the plan examiner that had originally conditionally approved our Restoration Plans, and Wisconsin's SHPO office. Following several phone calls and emails from all parties, the entire "light house" structure from the basement brick piers up through the floors to the lantern has been declared a separate Historic Exhibit, thus removing some of the building code issues that were blocking our work. The result is that we can now take guided tours, limited to six people at a time, up to the lantern. Realistically, no more that three at a time will ascend the lamp room and watch room ladders.

Huge thanks go out to Randy Lange who provided the stair treads, railing, spindles and wood for the newels and created a drawing of the winder that fit our space; Bob Goebel of Goebel woodworking for fitting the goosenecks, rails and newel top pieces; and Rick and Ron who took the stairs apart and put them back together so many times I think they can do it by memory. Jon Westphal, the carpenter that began the interior reconstruction with us in early 2001, was kind enough to lend his skill to installing the balusters (spindles). Just to make things extra challenging, almost every other spindle on each step needed a dowel extension of 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 inches added as the guys tried to make the toe height to railing top at least 32".

Thanks to Kirby and Bill of Rock Island, Potawatomie Light Station for photographing and measuring the stair parts of their Island Light, several times, for me. The Rock Island site is still original construction so it was a perfect source for determining historical accuracy of our reconstructed stairs. Another thanks to Kim Mann of South Manitou Island Light for referring me parts of the NPS historic survey done on South Manitou. It has become more and more evident that each of same vintage Great Lakes Light Stations were built utilizing numerous identical features, some supplied as "kits." These features, such as the towers, lanterns, stairs, structural orientation were then individualized to fit the site of construction. So, our Light Station, Pilot Island, Rock Island, Green Island, Michigan City and Grand Traverse, as originally built had basically the same footprint. The tower height varied depending on the focal plan that was determined necessary for the location. Cream city brick was used most of the time, but in the case of Potawatomie Light, locally quarried limestone was used. Our lantern is supported by post and beam construction in the tower and lamp room and bearing walls on the first and second floors. Grand Traverse has eight by eight beams running all the way to the lantern from brick pillars in the basement. Most of these sister lights were converted into two family stations when it was deemed necessary to have an assistant keeper on site.

Hopefully, someday, each of the surviving Great Lakes Lights will have complete Historic Structure Survey Reports done. I understand Grand Traverse was to receive their finished survey last month. Looking forward to reading it. Rick and I have used the South Manitou book as our bible so often the pages are starting to get a little dog-eared.

PAINTERS NEEDED! The frame part of the Station, entire generator building and all windows need a first or second coat of paint as soon as the weather permits. Our new storm windows were to be fitted this past week but Jeff Acker showed up in the rain and we'll have to reschedule. Many of the 1934 windows need to be painted again as they were painted, one coat, in haste prior to the tower dedication last June. A few haven't been painted at all. I believe there are 7 panes of glass to be replaced also. Call Linda, hey that's me, 262-285-3755 or Rick, 262-284-3394 if you can help. Perhaps two or 3 weekends in April can be arranged, otherwise Rick and Ron and new volunteer Bill usually work mornings at the Station.

Kevin, can you check if Pam Schommer is willing to donate additional paint? If not donate, perhaps she'll sell it to us at her cost. I want to continue using the same Pratt and Lambert paint, Monterey white. For those of you familiar with the Benjamin Moore paints, this has a bit less yellow in it than HC 27.

We have been told that to construct our memorial brick walkway to a rebuilt brick well we have to submit a new plot plan to the Architectural Review Board and City Planning Commission. Rick and I worked on it this week and Randy T., board member and City Planner for Port, went over the site plan yesterday, along with plans for the oil house and felt everything was in order. Rick or I will attend the Review Board's next meeting to answer and questions. The site of the car ferry Milwaukee lifeboat also had to be marked. The lifeboat must be returned to our site by 01 June. The Maritime Experience is borrowing the lifeboat right now so that their new museum site has something to put in the front window and show the progress they're making. Most of their work is going on behind the scenes right now. Our Historical Society loaned the lifeboat the this other nonprofit in town with the specific condition that it will be returned, in a new cradle, to the Light Station site. It will be good to see the lifeboat back where it belongs and by June the Maritime Experience should have other things to put on display. Some have suggested the Experience will try to renegotiate our loan agreement but I trust the agreement was signed in good faith by both parties.

Candace Clifford of the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee and author of one of my favorite books, "Women Who Kept the Lights," researched the oil house at the National Archives for me and sent copies of plans for 3 different oil houses. Comparing the plans to our file photos and the 1909 Description of... it was easy to determine which plans were used at Port Washington. The Oil House will be phase two of the restoration of our site, and not undertaken until we have the necessary funds raised in full, but it makes sense to get the necessary approvals now. Thanks, Candace, for your research. You're the best and I can afford your rates!

Thanks also to Tom Hudson, city alderman and webmaster of PortLightStation.org.  Tom checked with city hall to find out exactly what we needed to submit. Exact site measurements were needed for the well and oil house, so, in the light rain, Rick and I excavated enough of the east lawn to uncover the corners of the foundation of the oil house which was razed in 1834. We've found differences in some of the 1860 and 1934 plans, so a little digging was necessary. The exact size of the oil house foot print is given as, 6'8" x 8'8" or 6'8" x 9'0", so a little more digging will be necessary. But we've nailed the exact location.

Plans for our "official open house' on June 15, 2003 are being formulated by Pres. Ann Flierl and Treas. Nancy Mersereau. I made my suggestions but apparently I don't know how to plan a party, so wiser people than me are doing the work. Thank you! Hope to see lots of you for the celebration. I imagine official notification will be sent out by the Open House Committee. Since this project began in 2000 the Port Washington Historical Society has had 3 different presidents. Each has viewed the role of Rick and me as the Restoration Co-chairs in a different light. For those of you that do volunteer work like us, learn to roll with the punches. The end result is worth it. Contractors, volunteers and donors are supposed to be recognized at this year's party. If you aren't, Rick and I will through our own picnic although he doesn't know this yet.

Thanks to all of you, especially Jim Doran, Tom Tag and Candace Clifford for supplying info on the keepers and USCG families that lived at our Station. I'm working on a document that will combine the info. Pictures and family histories are still needed, especially for the Coasties that lived in Port. To the Bulls and Grahams: any family photos from when you lived at the station? Grahams and Almquists: according to my info, Charles Grahams and Arthur Almquist were posted at Port Washington two times each. Can you help me on this one. Service records of anyone posted to or just living at the light station would add a lot to my research.

Thanks to Tim Harrison of American Lighthouse Foundation and Lighthouse Digest for purchasing three bricks. We need to sell many more bricks in the next few months if we're to meet our expenses. An order form can be found on our website or give me a call and I'll send you forms. The Commemorative Bricks are $65 each until 01 May 2003. After that the price goes up to $75 bucks because we'll be ordering in smaller numbers. If you order by May 01 the bricks should be installed by the Open House on 15 June.

Ann: whoever is going to set up the local history display in the generator building needs to start soon. Having assisted in creating a bunch of displays, I know this is going to take time. Good luck! I'm sure its going to look great.

Oh, any group or Lighthouse that wants us to distribute your brochures, just send them to me at Linda M. Nenn 1859 Parknoll Lane Port Washington, WI 53074

I'll do the same for you once we have produced a brochure.

Starting next weekend, we'll be open Saturdays and Sundays, hopefully 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other times by prior appointment. Several tour groups have already booked their dates. Hope to see all of you in the coming weeks and months.

Keep the Lights Burning!


Back to the Light Station Renovation home page


This page updated Saturday, November 29, 2003