Digest>Archives> February 1996

A brief history of Rawley Point (Twin River Point) Lighthouse

By Timothy Harrison

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Over the years there has been a lot of dispute about when the first lighthouse was built at Twin River, Wisconsin. Through our extensive research we have found many conflicting dates and information and even the names of the site are confusing. But we have complied what we believe to be the most accurate account.

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John and Joan Repenn circa 1940's. John Repenn ...

Peter Rowley was one of the first settlers in the area. He came from Ohio with his family by boat and landed in Green Bay during the summer of 1835. The site of his home was about seven miles from where the town of Two Rivers now stands. Mr. Rowley opened a trading post and did quite an active business with the Ottowa and Pottoeottomie Indians.

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Joseph Napiezinski was 77 years old at the time ...

In 1841, Mr. Rowley was questioned by United States government surveyors concerning a name for the point. Being a timid man, he did not tell the surveyors that he had named the area Mink River. Instead the surveyors decided that since Rowley was the first important settler to the area, they named it on their charts as Rowley Point.

The first lighthouse to be built here was a temporary lighthouse consisting of four poles erected upright in the air about 75 feet with a lantern that was hoisted to the top. The second lighthouse was a wooden structure that stood until 1873. It was torn down because it had been built in the wrong place and a new brick tower was constructed in 1873.

When the current erector style lighthouse arrived in 1894 from Chicago where it had previously been the Chicago River Pierhead Light on Chicago Harbor. Extended in height, it was erected next to the Keeper's House and the top part of the old brick tower was torn down, leaving only the bottom floors, which were incorporated into the Keepers living quarters.

Mrs. Joan Funk told us that she recalled her days at Twin River Lighthouse where her husband John Repenn was an assistant keeper from July 1944 to September 1946 and again from 1955 through 1960. Joan was a local girl having grown up on a farm about five miles away from the lighthouse and recalled a lighthouse keeper named Mr. Bonker. Joan's grandmother, Mary Palm, who was born in 1861, used to tell her of the days when she did housekeeping for the early light-keepers. As Vivian Langer recalled in our other story in this issue, Joan Funk remembered that one of their most important assignments at the station was monitoring the radio beacon which monitored all the lighthouses on the Great Lakes. She recalled that the lantern room had two watchrooms and she believed that the lighthouse had the most powerful lens on the Great Lakes. Mr. Repenn passed away in 1972 and Joan who has remarried still lives in Wisconsin.

In a 1952 interview, 77 year-old Joseph Napiezinski, the former Head Keeper of Twin River Point Lighthouse and himself a 48 year veteran of the Lighthouse Service, recalled his days at the station. He said, "The lens was made in France and was seven feet high, revolving on a steel roller. The light itself was made of a combination of lard lamps which was wound by weights on a long chain every six hours."

Napiezinski said "between 1893 and 1920 vapor lamps were used to illuminate the light. Pressure had to be pumped by hand and kerosene gas was blown onto filament-like mantle which burned all night."

In 1920, electricity was installed. The original lens was used until 1952 when a piece of glass broke. Replacement was impossible to get at the time and a new, twin-bullseye prism was installed.

Today the lighthouse, although not open to the public, is surrounded by the beautiful Point Beach State Park which offers camping, hiking, and swimming.

Just when the name Rowley changed in the pages of the charts and maps to Rawley is unclear. But today, Rawley Point Light stands tall as a remembrance to a bygone era.

Special thanks to Vivian Langer, Joan Funk, Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village, and the Joseph Mann Library for helping us gather historic information on the Rawley Point Lighthouse. We have lots of other photographs and material that was not used in this story and will appear in a future issue of Lighthouse Digest.

This story appeared in the February 1996 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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