Door County Stories and Tips

The Road Trip From Milwaukee to Door County

Along Lake Michigan Photo, Two Rivers, Wisconsin

According to Mapquest, it is 193 miles and should take right about three and a half hours to make the drive from our house to Peninsula State Park, where I would be camping for the duration of my visit to Door County. Because I wanted to also stop along the coastal areas from Manitowoc to Sturgeon Bay, I opted to hop off I43 and make my way over to Hwy 42 for my journey. The trip was only slightly longer (230 miles) but took a whopping four hours more because of all of the stops I did make along the way.

My primary interest in taking this route was to view and photograph the lighthouses along the way. While the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse was the first planned stop, I couldn't help but to spend some time checking out the USS Cobia which is docked at the mouth of the Manitowoc River as an exhibit of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum near the lighthouse.

The USS Cobia was put into service in 1943 and sank a number of Japanese vessels during WWII. Considered obsolete in 1959, she was retired as a deployable warship and was subsequently used as a training vessel at the Milwaukee Naval Reserve Center until 1970. At that time, she was decommissioned and brought to Manitowoc.

While the Manitowoc shipbuilding industry did build 28 submarines that were similar to the USS Cobia, she was built in Groton, Connecticut. She has been fully restored and is part of the museum in Manitowoc as a example of the shipbuilding industry in Wisconsin. Visitors can take a 45 minute tour of the inside the wartime submarine during their visit to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. The USS Cobia is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From the USS Cobia exhibit, I walked along the waterfront to the point where I could snap a couple of photos of the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse. Built in 1918 to replace an older lighthouse, this lighthouse was automated in 1971 and is still functional today in aiding in the navigation from Lake Michigan to the harbor in Manitowoc. It is not open to the public and has been privately owned after the US Government sold it at auction in 2010 for $30,000. Restoration including removal of graffiti and repainting has been accomplished on this beauty.

After my time in Manitowoc, I headed up along the coastline to Two Rivers where I anticipated finding two lighthouses . . . one still in active service and the other that had been moved to the local town museum at the Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village.

The Two Rivers Pierhead Lighthouse was built and went into service in 1886 where it was active for 83 years. In 1975 the upper portion of the lighthouse was moved to its current location which accessible by foot although entry is forbidden.

The Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village is itself worth some time as it is largely credited as the location where the first commercial whitefish operation began in the 1830's by local French-Canadian immigrants. Captain Joseph P. Edwards and his crew of 20 fished the waters of Lake Michigan on the schooner "Gazelle." The Wisconsin fishing industry grew from these very modest beginnings in Two Rivers.

The other lighthouse in the Two Rivers area is located at the Point Beach State Forest, just north of town. The Rawley Point Lighthouse sits on land still owned by the US Coast Guard and is only viewable from a distance along the boardwalk to the beach. The keeper's quarters are now used as a rental cottage available only to those serving or retired from the USCG.

This lighthouse was a replacement of two previous lighthouses erected at this point. Originally built to serve in Chicago from July 1859 to November 1893, this tower was disassembled and moved to this location in 1894 and has remained in service ever since. It was automated in 1979 eliminating the need for on-site keepers and at that point in time the keeper's residence was converted into a rental cottage.

My next stop along Lake Michigan's coast was Kewaunee. As I first entered Kewaunee County, I saw the first of what would be several barn quilts along Hwy 42. I expected to see them further north in Door County, but the first one I came upon caught me off guard . . . so much so I had to turn around and go back to take a couple of photos. I have been unable to locate any information online about their barn quilt trail, so I do not have the names of any of the beautiful quilts I've included with this story. I will come back and update if I'm able to obtain more information on them.

The Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse was another one that was not accessible, only visible from a distance or by boat. I decided that where I drove to gain the best access for photography would also make for a nice lunch spot that I made a sandwich and enjoyed the scenery for a while.

The original navigation aid on the Kewaunee Pier was a set of range lights on each of the piers at the entrance to the Kewaunee River. Range lights consist of a two tower configuration when requires sailors to line up with the lights in order to have safe passage into the harbor. What stands today as the Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse was actually the original front range light tower on the south pier. It was renamed in 1915 when the rear range light tower had been removed to be part of the north pier range light, rendering the range light system on the south pier obsolete.

In 1937 the old north pier was removed, leaving just this lighthouse on the south pier. In 2006 however, the breakwater was created and the Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse was again moved and remains at this location.

My last lighthouse stop on my drive to Door County was the beautiful Algoma Pierhead Lighthouse. This lighthouse was also originally part of a range light configuration but was moved in 1932 to its current location as part of a $100,000 harbor improvement project.

I was really happy that I did this side trip along Lake Michigan. Not only did I get to check out several lighthouses along the way, but I did see some very lovely barn quilts as well. I also saw other museums and historical sites along the way. One really interesting place was the Heritage Farm, a fully restored farmstead settlement established by Czech immigrants in the 1870’s. I look forward to visiting this area again when I have more time to tour and learn more about the lives of Wisconsin's settlers of the 19th century.

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