Within Range

October 28, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Baileys Harbor Rear Range LightBaileys Harbor Rear Range Light

Within Range -

The Baileys Harbor Range Lights in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin are the only remaining operational range lights in Wisconsin. The rear solid white light, as can be seen at the top dormer of the house in this photo, has a focal height of 37 feet while the front solid red range light (not seen in this photo, has a focal height of 23 feet. The lights are about 980 feet apart and have a bearing of 340 degrees. When approaching mariners align one light above the other they can rest in knowing they are in safe waters headed into Baileys Harbor. Both were electrified in 1923. The rear light was renovated in 1993 and the front range light renovated in 2012. Both lights became operational again in 2015. 

Constructed in 1868 and first lit in 1870, the lights operated with lard burning wicks that required tending every three hours 24/7. Because the maintenance required cutting of the wicks and cleaning the lens every day, light keepers were often referred to as "wickies". In those early days, all navigational lights were managed by the government run Lighthouse Service and they were fastidious about the maintenance requirements. Light keepers had few options for their own time and had a rigorous schedule every day. A daily journal was a must and all events of any kind required documentation.

On the Great Lakes, however, light keepers only maintained the lights for about 8 months. Once the lakes froze, the light keepers were allowed to leave their posts until the following spring when marine traffic once again started up for the season. The keepers in the northern states needed to be extremely hardy souls since local help was a rarity and conditions harsh. Loneliness often got the best of the hardiest of souls. Few roads existed to access the lights and most access was by boat only. Winters were extreme cold and they often only had a wood burning stove for heat. Their water sources often froze over. All maintenance and repairs were done solely by the keeper or his assistant, and sometimes required the assistance of the keeper's wife and children. The Lighthouse Service would ensure that the keepers received a years food supply in the spring including meat, flour, beans, coffee/tea. It was left up to the light keeper to buy a cow for milk and chickens for eggs if they so desired. A good salary would be around $600 per year.


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