History of the Port Washington USCG Light Station


Port Washington's first lighthouse was built on purchased land, in 1849. The land was bought from Henry and Emma Allen, for $200 in 1848 and includes the current site. A local myth still circulates that the land was donated by Solon Johnston.  Solon Johnston may have once owned the land but it was no longer his land to give, much less sell in 1848.  The lighthouse rose 36-38 feet from the ground to the lantern.  The lantern housed a 14" reflector and 5 fixed lamps.  Lighthouse and keeper's dwelling were constructed of cream city brick.  The keeper's dwelling was some distance from the lighthouse, probably right where the current light station is situated, based on an 1849 Corps of Engineers map.  In 1856 the lantern was refitted with a sixth order lens, white light. Focal plane 36' above base of tower and 109' above sea level.  Distance visible: 9 miles.

By 1859 the lighthouse had to be replaced, possibly due to poor mortar or substandard bricks. This was the case at many sites around Lake Michigan, although a definite citation regarding the reason for demolishing the 1849 lighthouse has not been found to date.

In 1852 the Light-House Establishment was reorganized under the leadership of George Putnam.  It was then generally referred to as The United States Light House Service.


The current lighthouse was completed in 1860.  Light-House Service documents refer to the project as a "rebuilding."  The project was completed at the same time the Sheboygan light was "rebuilt."  It appears that the old brick was salvaged and reused in the new construction.  Regardless, a sixth order fresnel lens was to be used in the new lantern. It is not known if a 6th order was ever installed.  We do know that in later years 4th order fresnel lenses were in use at the station.  In Scott's New Coast Pilot, 1899 it reads, "Port Washington Light Station.  A fixed white light, visible 18 1/4 miles, 4th order.  Lantern on yellow brick dwelling, 40 feet high.  A coast-light on the bluff in the north part of the town of Port Washington..."  The tower on top of the dwelling was of beam construction.  8" x 8" beams rose from the attic to the lantern.  The tower was supported by bearing walls on the first and second floors, with 8" x8" cross beams in the basement which rested on 3 brick piers and the front foundation.  The lantern was cast iron, 9 sided.  The cast iron frame was wainscoted below the glass panels.  The lantern was made accessible via a stairway in the SW corner of the first floor and then a series of three ladder stairs rising from the second floor to the attic, attic to watch room and watch room to lantern deck.


In 1889 Port Washington's first pierhead lighthouse was built.  It housed a sixth order fresnel lens and was a red fixed light.  The light was exhibited for the first time on the night of September 15, 1889.  It was powered by a gasoline generator.  The "gas machine" was removed in 1902.  At that time the lamps were converted to electricity and the sixth order lens replaced by "improved fifth order lamps."  The lighthouse was a pyramidal wooden framework tower with upper portion enclosed.  It had a cast iron lantern.  Height of tower from base to center of ventilator ball, 42' 11".  Focal plane: 36' 2".  The tower was built by local contractors under the guidance of the Light-House Superintendent of this district.

From September 15, 1889 to October 31, 1903 the lightkeeper, later with the help of an assistant, was responsible for keeping both lights lit.

The brick oil house was constructed in 1894.  It was built of red brick with a cement roof.


Light Station beacon was discontinued October 31, 1903.

Lightkeeper Charles Lewis, Jr. retired in 1924.  The pierhead light was automated and the city ran the fog siren from the water works.  No keeper was needed.  According to Lewis's grand-daughter, Jeanette Dallmann (who turned 88 in May, 2001), Charles and Linda Teed Lewis continued to live in the Light Station without the knowledge or consent of the government.  No records have been found that confirm or deny this other than references that indicate the pierhead light was serviced by personnel from Milwaukee during the period 1924 to 1934.  In 1934 the Lewises moved to a small home on Chestnut street.  Linda Teed Lewis died in 1935, Charles in 1937.  They are buried in Port's Union Cemetery.  Charles was Port Washington's longest serving keeper.  He was appointed in 1882, making his tenure 42 years.  Charles Lewis's parents, Capt. Charles H. and Maria Lewis also served as keepers.  Charles, Sr. was a Great Lakes captain before becoming a lighthouse keeper.  He replaced Mr. Keogh in December, 1874 and served until his death, April 20, 1880.  Maria was then appointed keeper.  Her son took over in 1882. Charles, Sr. and Maria are buried in Milwaukee's Forest Home Cemetery.  Maria died Jan. 27, 1897 at the Light Station.  She was 76.  Maria was born in New Haven, Oswego County, New York.  Charles, Jr. was born in Milwaukee.  Linda Teed Lewis was a Port Washington native.

The tower and lantern were removed in 1934 when the new pierhead light was nearing completion.  It was at this time that the entire light station was gutted and converted into a two family dwelling.

The United States Light-House Service, under the direction of the Light-House Board, was incorporated in the US Coast Guard in 1939.  Some civilian keepers were allowed to continue in their role as keepers until they retired.

Port Washington had either civilian or Coast Guard "keepers" manning the light until 1976 when the pierhead light was fully automated.  It is now serviced by Coast Guard personnel out of Milwaukee and occasionally from Sheboygan.

Although local authorities petitioned the US government numerous times to have a life-saving station established in Port Washington, this was never done.

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This page updated Friday, December 07, 2001