Historic lighthouses

Chicago Harbor Lighthouse Illinois

Chicago Maritime Museum
Written By Chicago Maritime Museum

It is a tall order to tell the story of Chicago’s waterways and their emotional and prosperous impact on 19th, 20th and 21st century American growth. Welcome to the Chicago Maritime Museum and our developing story of Chicago’s maritime traditions and impact.

The first area lighthouse was constructed at the mouth of the Chicago River, years before the city incorporated. The 1831 structure had some problems, though, and soon collapsed. Its 1832 replacement was fifty-feet high and stood near Fort Dearborn. Chicago’s first lighthouse was also the first on the Great Lakes. As of 1848, there were 59 lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Chicago lighthouses were crucial for navigation; they marked dangerous passageways as well as harbor entry points. Hundreds lined the Great Lakes, but lighthouses became obsolete with modern navigational technology. Since 1835, Chicago’s harbor has seen a succession of lighthouses that have helped ships, laden with cargo and passengers, safely access one of the great port cities of the United States.

The First Lighthouse

The Chicago lighthouse built 1832 near the site of the Michigan Avenue bridge stood 50 feet high. The masonry tower was equipped with a birdcage-style lantern room. In 1852, with the completion of an extension to the north pier, a new lighthouse was constructed at the pier’s end, and the old 1832 structure, standing by Fort Dearborn, was decommissioned.

Residents Lobby for a New Structure

The historic Grosse Point Light is located in Evanston, Illinois. Following several shipping disasters because of the dangerous shoals nearby, Evanston residents successfully lobbied the federal government for a lighthouse. Construction was completed in 1873. The Grosse Point Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 1976. On January 20, 1999, the lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark.

A New Landmark

The most recent lighthouse is the current Chicago Harbor Light originally constructed in 1893 at the end of the harbor pier. In 1910, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began major improvements on the Chicago harbor. As part of this effort, the light was moved in 1917 to the end of the outer harbor breakwater where it stands today. The Chicago Harbor Light was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and later was designated a Chicago Landmark on April 9, 2003.

The Chicago area lighthouses serve as are examples of how the U.S. Government played a vital role in developing the Great Lakes for use by the people and businesses. It was the lighthouse tower that helped to turn untamed inland seas into inland waterways.

{Cover photo from Chicago Maritime Museum.}

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Waterways and Rivers: Chicago's Maritime History

Historic lighthouses

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