You can catch a fairly good, but distant view of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse from the city's famous Navy Pier. We managed to catch a closer glimpse of the tower when we took a boat tour of the harbor, but the recent transfer of the light tower's ownership from the U.S. Coast Guard to the City of Chicago offers hope that the lighthouse may eventually become more accessible to public visitors.
The ownership transfer occurred early this year and was the culmination of a four-year process.
The city reportedly has plans to open the lighthouse to the public with a museum. But officials must first build a dock or other public access to the offshore light, a project estimated as taking another two or three years.
Meanwhile, it's possible to a decent photo of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse by walking out to the end of Navy Pier and using a long lens.
The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is the city's only remaining lighthouse (and one of only two lighthouses in Illinois), but the city's location makes the lighthouse particularly important in the history of Chicago and Great Lakes transportation.
The 1800s saw Chicago Harbor become an important strategic military location and shipping route, and the U. S. government authorized the construction of the harbor's first lighthouse in 1832 to help guide the ever-increasing water traffic.
Chicago experienced rapid growth as the century progressed. The government decommissioned the original Chicago Harbor Lighthouse in 1850, and two other lights appeared at the harbor. Chicago became the country's busiest port as the main route connecting the East Coast and the Gulf Coast via the Great Lakes.
Excitement surrounding the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago brought many new developments to the city, including the building of a new 48-foot lighthouse with attached housing for the keepers near the site of the original tower.
The lighthouse moved east of Navy Pier in 1917 to perch on a newly renovated breakwater to guide traffic around it. Lighthouse renovations at the time of the move included the addition of attached fog signal and boathouse buildings. The lighthouse's roost atop the breakwater also increased its focal plane height to eighty-two feet.
The Coast Guard automated the lighthouse's red beacon in 1979 and retained its third order Fresnel lens. Chicago Harbor Lighthouse earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, earned designation as a Chicago Landmark in 2003.
The little green and white Chicago Harbor Southeast Guidewall light, built in 1938, sits on the end of a pier just south of Navy Pier about a half mile from the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. It marks the entrance to the Chicago River, which in turn, leads to the Mississippi River.
The red-and-white painted William E. Dever Crib is about three miles off of the Chicago River entrance on the opposite side of Navy Pier from the Southeast Guidewall Light and the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. Built in the 1930s, the Chicago Department of Water Management owns it. The crib hosts a weather station, as well as a webcam taking photos of downtown Chicago's skyline.
I did get closer views of the lighthouse, the guidewall light and the crib when we took that boat tour of the harbor, although taking a speedboat tour meant my big DSLR had to spend most of the tour in a big plastic bag to protect it from the water! I still managed to get this shot of the top of the tower, though.
© Dominique King 2009 All rights reserved