It has been announced that the Door County Maritime Museum is going to build a replica of Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin’s long lost Dunlap Reef Range Rear Lighthouse. Because of this, we thought we would share with you some of the history of the nearly forgotten beacon and its sister light.
The existences of the Dunlap Reef Range Lighthouses were short lived by most lighthouse standards, but the history and stories of its keepers could fill a text book.
The first keeper at Dunlap Reef was Civil War veteran Henry C. Graham who served from September 9, 1881 until April of 1885. Previously, Graham had been clerk of the circuit court, but the lighthouse job offered him more money and hopefully prestige.
However, Graham soon began to have doubts about the lighthouse job. Although it was fairly nice in the warm weather months, the winter was a different story. Each night he had to climb the tower, light the kerosene lamp, and then row to the range light and light it, and row back–a job that was not pleasant in the winter months. After spending the first winter in the keeper’s house with his wife and three sons, the family decided that the house, as well as being cold, was way too confining for a family. Shortly, thereafter, he moved his family to the mainland and tended the lighthouses from there.
Although Graham liked being a lighthouse keeper, the rowing back and forth to the two lighthouses in the winter months caught up with him. In the winter of 1885 he became seriously ill as a result of the cold weather and decided that lighthouse life was too rough on his health. In an about face from lighthouse life, he resigned as lighthouse keeper and purchased a farm in Minnesota.
In April of 1885, Joseph Harris Jr. was appointed by the Lighthouse Board as the second keeper of both Dunlap Reef Lighthouses. Harris was no stranger to lighthouse keeping. He had joined the Lighthouse Establishment in 1875 and served at the Baileys Harbor Range Lighthouses and the Green Island Lighthouse, both in Wisconsin, and finally at the Grosse Point Lighthouse in Illinois before being transferred to the Dunlap Reef Lighthouses.
Since his family had strong family roots in the area, Harris was elated to be transferred to Sturgeon Bay. Harris, like his predecessor, had no intentions of having his family live at the small off shore lighthouse. He moved his family into his father’s nine room home, which was the first all-brick structure to have been built in Door County. The arrangement was perfect and would not interfere with his father, who had taken a job working for a United States senator in Washington, DC.
Tending the Dunlap Reef Lighthouses was a fairly easy job, which did not take up much of his time, so he started a boat building business. Lighthouse officials were so impressed by the boat that he built for his own personal use to tend the Dunlap Reef Lighthouse that they ordered several of them for use at other lighthouses. Harris resigned his job as lighthouse keeper in April of 1890 to take the job as postmaster of Sturgeon Bay, and later served as the town’s mayor.
The third and final keeper of the Dunlap Reef Lighthouses was Clifford W. Sanderson, who had followed in the footsteps of his father, lighthouse keeper William Sanderson. Sanderson served at Dunlap Reef for an amazing 34 years until 1924 when the lighthouses were discontinued and he was transferred to Wisconsin’s Cana Island Lighthouse where his father had once been the keeper and where he had served as an assistant keeper under his father.
In 2006, as part of the area’s, “Beacons Across the Bay,” Jean Austad built a model of the rear lighthouse that was auctioned off to benefit the Door County Museum.
The exact scale of the new replica has yet to be determined, but the structure is expected to be completed over the winter months and will be on display at the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. For more information, you can visit their website at www.dcmm.org.
This story appeared in the
November 2010 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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