Orland Lynd, keeper of Wisconsin’s Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse, was sitting at his duty station at 1:30 am on a Thursday morning when he was suddenly jolted out of his chair by a tremendous crash. As he watched the plaster cracking on the walls and items falling from the shelves, his mind quickly went through a list of things that could have caused this.
Running down the stairs from his second floor duty room, it only took him a second to realize exactly what he had feared could happen one day. Looming up at him was the S S Ann Arbor No. 3, a railroad car-ferry, which had run her bow onto the stub end of the concrete pier.
Not to this day is anyone quite certain why a large ship equipped with a radio beacon (radar was not yet installed on their vessels at that time) would have crashed into the lighthouse pier on a cool clear night. Although, it was widely known that if the operator of ferry vessel was a hair off, especially on foggy nights, he could easily fetch upon one of the piers instead of come between them.
Because of all the steel in the railroad cars being transported across the lake, getting a true reading from a magnetic compass was extremely difficult. Therefore, on some of the railroad car-ferries, a compass was installed in the crow’s nest, which was the furthest point away from the mass of steel laded below, and a mate was assigned to this high position to read it.
According to a reporter for the now defunct Kewaunee Enterprise newspaper, the large vessel sat there with an estimated 12-foot in diameter hole in its bow filled with tons of concrete that had broken off the pier and was pushed into the vessel. After assessing the situation, the vessel’s crew decided to proceed to the nearby dock and unload its cargo of railroad cars. When that was accomplished, they headed down-lake 30-miles to Manitowoc for repairs at the shipyard where it had previously been for other unknown repairs.
The harbor at Kewaunee was and still is the only deep-water port on the western shore of Lake Michigan, and at that time the Army Corps of Engineers had much of their equipment stored at Kewaunee for layover. Work was immediately started to rebuild the concrete pier and to also incorporate the new tower and lantern room into the top of the fog signal building.
The old tower, with its twisted steel leg, was placed on a barge that was tied up at the south side of the pier while the concrete pier was reconstructed. Also at that time, the demolished catwalk was placed on the same barge.
What happened to the old tower after it was removed from Kewaunee is unclear, but it is entirely possible that it was moved to Illinois where it became the Chicago Harbor Southeast Guidewall Lighthouse in Chicago.
Mr. Helmer Johnson, foreman of the lighthouse district, and his men completed the concrete pier reconstruction by April of 1931 while the rest of the superstructure work was completed by them later that year.
So, if it were not for the ship hitting the pier by accident, the Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse might never have changed in appearance to become a twin to the Holland Harbor Lighthouse in Holland, Michigan. Interestingly, proving that fate may have played a role, if you believe in things like that, the previous towers at Kewaunee and Holland were also virtual twins.
Editor’s Note: We wish to thank Thomas L. Schuller of the Kewaunee County Historical Society for submitting this information that made this story possible and to Terry Pepper of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper’s Association for his insight. To learn more about the Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse, please refer to the story, “Orland B. Lynd, More Than a Lighthouse Keeper” that appeared in the October, 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2011 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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