Are you interested in exploring maritime history and lighthouses?
Look no further than the Southport Lighthouse in Kenosha. Built in 1866, this historic lighthouse on Simmons Island is a must-visit destination.
The Southport Light Station and Maritime Museum opened for the 2023 season on Thursday (May 4) and will continue operations through October.
The Southport Lighthouse is the third government lighthouse built on Simmons Island.
Historian and official lighthouse keeper, Ron Luttrell, explained to me during my tour that the tower is made of Milwaukee Cream City brick and is conical in shape. The focal plane of the light is 74 feet above the lake level.
Originally designated as a coast and harbor light, the light station was the first navigational light a mariner would see upon entering Wisconsin from Chicago. It was functional until 1906 when it was replaced by the current North Pier lighthouse. The lantern room was removed around 1913 and replaced with a 25-foot tripod mast for the display of storm warning flags and lights.
The weather signal tower was removed in the 1960s, and the Southport tower was boarded up. A restoration feasibility study in 1989 by the Kenosha County Historical Society led to the preservation of the tower.
A replica of the lantern room was positioned on the tower on May 7, 1994, completing the first phase of restoration. The 1866 Southport Light Station is now listed on the Wisconsin and National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors to the Southport Light Station Museum will enjoy exploring the original Keeper’s House, which has been restored to reflect the era around 1907.
The first floor includes a period kitchen and historic colors, and the chart desk offers nautical charts and historic harbor maps dating back to 1839. The second floor features exhibits about the restoration project, local shipwrecks, the U.S. Coast Guard, and a re-creation of a lighthouse keeper’s bedroom/office.
Climbing the 72 steps to the top of the lighthouse tower is a must-do experience.
From the light room at the top, visitors can view the harbor area, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Chicago. The Southport Lighthouse has become a favorite among lighthouse enthusiasts, with an authentic Fresnel lens on loan from the U.S. Coast Guard that matches the size lens that once topped the Southport Lighthouse.
Admission to the keeper’s house tour is free, but donations are welcome, with most visitors donating $5 to the cause. There is a fee to climb the lighthouse which is $10 for ages 12-and-over and $5 for children 8-11 years old. Children 8-and-under are not allowed to climb.
The lighthouse tower climb is only open Thursday-Saturday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (noon to 4 p.m.) through October. It is a weather-dependent event, so it’s important to call ahead if you’re traveling any distance to get here.
The Southport Light Station Museum hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including weekend hours for the Lighthouse Keeper’s House and the Southport Lighthouse. Special events are also held throughout the season and on National Lighthouse Day (Aug. 7), which in the past has included food, ice cream, music, and lots of fun for all.
To finish off my tour, I climbed the spiral staircase to the top where I viewed the harbor area from the light room. Luttrell informed me that on a clear day the Chicago skyline is visible from the light room. Unfortunately, the visibility was lower during the midday sun, but it was still an unforgettable experience.