Cana Island Lighthouse Tower, house reopened to the public after restoration


BAILEYS HARBOR – It’s safe to say that John and Madeline Holstrom are lighthouse enthusiasts. Not only did they visit lighthouses across the Midwest and the country, but they got married at one of them, the Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Naperville, Illinois couple were thrilled to visit the Cana Island Lighthouse when its lighthouse and keeper’s house reopened to the public on Friday for the first time this year. They hadn’t been to the iconic Door County Lighthouse in four or five years, they said, and this time they climbed the 97 steps of the cast-iron spiral staircase to the outdoor gazebo atop the 89.-foot-tall tower overlooking Lake Michigan. The bridge was open for the first time in eight years.

“It’s just a beautiful, amazing thing,” Madeline Holstrom said. “It was amazing to be able to go back up there.”

Their enthusiasm seemed to mirror that of many who overflowed from the parking lot a short walk or tram ride from the lighthouse and lined up to be the first visitors this year to see the restored interior of the two-story keeper’s house and do the climb inside the tower to admire the view from the top.

The reopening of the house and tower marks the end of a 13-year, four-phase plan and project to preserve and protect the 153-year-old structure often seen as the most symbolic of the county’s 11 lighthouses. by Door. The project also added several facilities and made the small island where the lighthouse stands more easily accessible.

The view of the Door County shoreline with Lake Michigan from 89 feet on the Cana Island Lighthouse Deck.

The Isle of Cana has not been totally closed to tourists all season – the oil house and toilets have been opened along with the new Visitor and Interpretation Center which opened in 2020 as part of Restoration.

But being able to reopen the main attractions of a site which saw its highest attendance last year, with more than 50,000 visitors, is of course a big problem. Mostly because, as noted by Door County Maritime Museum executive director Kevin Osgood, it was planned to remain closed all season to complete the work. The museum operates the site in partnership with the department that owns it.

Additionally, this means the Isle of Cana will be fully open for DCMM’s annual Fall Lighthouse Festival, which runs from September 30 to October 2 and attracts thousands of lighthouse fans from across the country to experience the peninsula lights.

“I think it’s huge, (and) not just to share the full experience of being on the Isle of Cana,” Osgood said after a session with the media the morning of the reopening. “For the county, for the museum, when it’s closed, fewer people come here.”

Visitors line up to enter the 89-foot-tall light tower and climb its 97 steps to reach the top of the Isle of Cana Lighthouse in Baileys Harbour.  The Door County Maritime Museum opened the tower and lighthouse keeper's house to the public for the first time this season on August 12 after a preservation and restoration project.

The lighthouse, which still has its third-order Fresnel lens, although now using an automated light bulb instead of burning oil, was built in 1869 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was owned and operated by the United States Coast Guard from 1934 until 1970, when it entered into a lease with the museum to maintain the lighthouse and grounds. The Coast Guard then transferred ownership of the island and light to Door County in 2006. The county parks department and the museum then entered into an agreement for DCMM to continue to operate and manage the site.

A 2009 survey of the tower, caretaker’s house, and property identified flaws that limited public access and deterioration primarily caused by extremes of lakeside humidity and Wisconsin weather over years. It also identified limited interpretive opportunities for visitors outside of the guides who occupied the site.

The Caretaker’s House now includes restored or updated electrical systems, HVAC, and structural elements. The original wooden flooring and glass have been restored and left in place where possible, and layers of wallpaper have been removed to reveal the walls.

Original wood floors and some original glass remain in the restored lighthouse keeper's house at Cana Island Lighthouse in Baileys Harbour.  The Door County Maritime Museum opened the tower and keeper's house to the public for the first time this season on August 12 after a preservation and restoration project.

Most notable in the tower is the removal of the plaster that has long covered the original Cream City brick in the stairwell. This was done as much for structural preservation as for aesthetics, said Sam Perlman, DCMM deputy director and head of development, because the plaster on the inside and the steel cladding on the outside of the tower trapped the moisture in between.

Inside, the bricks will remain uncovered and in view of tower climbers for the next two years, giving them a chance to “breathe”, after which the museum and the county will decide whether or not to cover them.

The total cost of the project was nearly $5 million, raised through grants and donations from individuals and corporations, Osgood said. The cost of the fourth and final phase was $1.1 million.

There is still a bit of work to be done to complete the restoration – purchases of furniture, for example. The keeper’s house is empty at the moment, but the plan for next year is to add some 1920s or 30s period furniture and decor that would have been found in a keeper’s house.

But it is also ready to welcome the public again, just like the lighthouse which encourages tens of thousands of visitors to climb its steps and contemplate the shores of the Lac de la Péninsule.

“The iconic Isle of Cana Lighthouse is a key part of our heritage in Door County,” said Julie Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Door County. “These visitors continue to return year after year and do so because they feel part of a community. Cultural and historical tourism is a vital part of Door County.”


The Cana Island Lighthouse is located at 8800 E. Cana Island Road, Baileys Harbour. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from May to October; the last trolley ride from the car park across the causeway leaves at 4:15 p.m. and the last ascent of the tower begins at 4:30 p.m.

Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for ages 5-17, free for Door County Maritime Museum members and serving military and immediate family (up to five). Those who choose to cross the rocky causeway instead of taking the trolley should wear boots or shoes that can get wet. Intakes may close if lake water levels are too high.

For more information, call the museum at 920-743-5958 or visit or

Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]

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