Baileys Harbor, WI
54202 Information Center Open Daily
Corner of Hwy 57 and County F
10:00 am to 4:00 pm
May 26 to October 16
Baileys Harbor Range Lights
“Lighting the Way” to The Ridges Sanctuary
By Karen Newbern, Assistant Director/Naturalist, The Ridges Sanctuary
May 16, 2008
The Ridges Sanctuary is well known as a refuge for many rare and endangered species, including some 25 species of native orchids and the federally-endangered Hines Emerald Dragonfly. Founded in 1937, the sanctuary has a rich history of land protection, research and environmental education.
Henry Gattie (right) was the last lightkeeper in the Range Lights, serving until 1930 when the lights were electrified.
Located within the boundaries of The Ridges Sanctuary are the Baileys Harbor Range Lights. Built in 1869, the Range Lights were a simple, yet effective way to keep ships off the treacherous reefs and shallows at the entrance to Baileys Harbor. From the water, a sailor got “on range” by lining up vertically the white light in the Upper Range Light with the Lower Range Light’s red beacon.
The Upper Range Light also served as the lighthouse keeper’s residence. But by the 1920s, the lighting equipment had been automated, and a resident lighthouse keeper was no longer deemed necessary. The buildings were unoccupied until 1930, when they were leased by Immanuel Lutheran Church in Baileys Harbor for use as a parsonage. Thus began a fascinating chapter in the Range Lights’ history, during which the Lutheran ministers and their families also served as part-time lighthouse keepers.
Helen Girod of Bryant, Wisconsin, is a life member of the Ridges with a unique perspective on this period in the sanctuary’s history. Via a letter, she recently shared some of her memories of life in the Range Light with Ridges Sanctuary staff:
It was June 1944 when I came as a young bride with my husband, the Rev. Robert Girod, called to be pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Baileys Harbor. Because the church owned no parsonage, they rented the Ridges Sanctuary Range Light from the U.S. Coast Guard for $20 a year, but threw in the pastor’s time and energy to keep the two range lights bright. The beautiful Fresnel lenses had to be polished, and of course light bulbs burn out.
Oh, yes, the Coast Guard kept track of us, and sometimes they called from Sturgeon Bay to have us walk down the path to the lakeshore to see if the Cana Island light was on.
The range light was very stark and dark inside with its grey walls and the large trees darkening the windows. The Coast Guard gave us permission to paper some walls and put in linoleum. Two elderly Baileys Harbor ladies, Hattie Peil and Grandma Oldenburg, came to our rescue and did the wallpapering. The rooms seemed so much brighter.
We soon began to love the Ridges Sanctuary with its many paths leading to trailing arbutus, dwarf lake iris, lady slippers, columbine, trees, ferns and sedges.
Winter arrived and we realized the lighthouse had no insulation. All we had for heat was a wood-burning kitchen range and a cranky oil burner that clogged and went out too often. We were cold! Spilled water even froze on that kitchen floor!
We soon began to know Ridges friends – Emma Toft, whose fame had spread as having saved the Ridges by lying down in front of a bulldozer, and Jens Jensen, Frank Oldenburg, Olivia Traven, the Prueters, the Tishlers, and many others who taught us about the Ridges. I was intrigued by the ant lions in Sandy Ridge.
People of the whole Baileys Harbor community were very friendly. The church thrived for my diligent husband. Everything was looking up when reluctantly, nine years later, we left the Baileys Harbor Range Light with our five-year-old son, Paul, so my husband could pastor two Langlade County churches that seemed to need us more.
Only three years after Rev. Girod and his family moved from the Range Light, the church ended its lease, and the building stood vacant until 1965. The next tenant of the lighthouse was Roy Lukes, first Naturalist and Director of The Ridges Sanctuary. Roy also served as a part-time lightkeeper until 1969, when the Range Lights were permanently extinguished.
Today, The Ridges Sanctuary staff and volunteers have become the new keepers of the lights. The Upper Range Light provides office space for sanctuary staff, as well as housing for summer naturalists. Although they no longer guide ships into Baileys Harbor, the Range Lights continue to guide visitors into the quiet solitude and beauty of the Ridges Sanctuary.
The historic Baileys Harbor Range Lights are open for public viewing during the annual Lighthouse Walk, and to groups by special appointment for a small fee. During the remainder of the year, the Range Lights are not open to the public, but can be viewed from the sanctuary’s hiking trails.
This article is reproduced with the consent of the Peninsula Pulse.