This is a seasonal attraction located at Simmons Island Park, 50th Street and Lighthouse Drive (4th Avenue). After years of extensive remodeling and renovation, the 1867 Light Station keeper’s house opened in May 2010 as a maritime museum featuring artifacts, maps and information about Kenosha’s important 19th century harbor.
The first floor of the building has been restored to a 1907-08 time period, complete with historic paint colors and a period kitchen. Exhibits document Kenosha's harbor history, with information on its lighthouse keepers, shipping and commercial fishing history. A chart desk for nautical charts and maps displays historical harbor maps that date back to 1839, which shows the plot of Southport (what Kenosha used to be called). An authentic Fresnel lens, on loan from the U.S. Coast Guard, is on display. It has the size lens that used to sit atop the Southport Lighthouse. The second floor contains exhibits about the restoration project, local shipwrecks, US Coast Guard, and a re-creation of a lighthouse keeper’s bedroom/office.
The museum is filled with fascinating facts, including that the first and only woman lighthouse keeper was Lorinda Merrill in 1871. She replaced her late husband Joseph. By 1850, building lumber and coal were the major imports into the Kenosha harbor. Wheat was a major export. Between 1902 and 1920, the Hill Steamboat Co. dominated activity in Kenosha’s harbor, transporting passengers and freight, including goods for Nash Motors, American Brass, Simmons Company, Allen Tannery, and Peter Pirsch.
In 1837, the Pike Creek settlement, where Kenosha now lies, became Southport. It was so named because the area was the southern most port in the Wisconsin territory on Lake Michigan. In that year, 61 steamboats and 80 schooners called on the village. A lighthouse was needed in order for these ships to find the village at night. The first was an oak stump cut ten feet off the ground with a wooden platform, lined with rock, built on top. On this, a fire was lit each night during the shipping season.
The Southport Lighthouse, built in 1866, is the third lighthouse tower to have existed at its current site. During museum hours, visitors can climb the 72 steps to the top of the lighthouse, which is located just steps from the house. The tower stands 55 feet above the lighthouse grounds. Lighthouse souvenirs are available around the corner from the museum, at the Kenosha History Center. Contact the Kenosha History Center to light the 1866 lighthouse for a special person, occasion, anniversary, birthday or memoriam.
Adult and school group tours welcomed. Facility rentals available. Free parking. It's free to tour the museum (keeper's house), donations are welcome. There is a fee to climb the lighthouse (must be 8 years old or older).
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The Kenosha County Historical Society, made up of the Kenosha History Center and Southport Light Station Museum, is Travel Green Wisconsin Certified. Read about here.