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The Manitowoc Breakwater Light has guided lakefarers in and out of the Manitowoc harbor for over 164 years, with the first lighthouse being established in 1839. In 1840, a brick structure located at the corner of 5th and York Streets perched on a high hill a short distance from the mouth of the Manitowoc River.

  • SW corner of York and North 5th Street. Photo dated 1890.
  • South side pier with northside lighthouse on the left. (1930s)
  • South side pier 1930s

A wood pyramidal tower standing 35 feet high was built in 1850 on the outer end of north pier. a catwalk extended to shore assured safe access to the 300 pound hand-operated bell, the city’s first fog signal and the oil lamp that provided light to help pilots navigate into The river.

By 1895, this lighthouse needed such extensive repairs that it was demolished and reconstructed by the government. Along the river at the Goodrich Docks, at this time, a two-family residence was built on the location of the old lighthouse.

This same year the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse was established on the outer end of the North Breakwater. It was a wood structure covered with corrugated tin. The structure did not have a tower but a small lens room to accommodate the kerosene lamp and a 10-inch steam fog whistle.

In 1918 a new light structure was built on the North Breakwater, a lighthouse, which greets all people coming into Manitowoc Harbor today. The lighthouse originally had a 4th Order lens but was soon replaced with a 5th Order lens.

The most recent change to the Manitowoc Breakwater Light was the removal of the 5th Order lens that is now housed in the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. The United States Coast Guard removed this lens in October 2002 and replaced the lens with a modern light fixture.