Historical Chicago Lighthouses

Since 1832, Chicago’s harbor has seen a succession of lighthouses that have helped ships, laden with cargo and passengers, safely access one of the great port cities of the United States.

The oldest Chicago lighthouse was built in 1832 near the site of the Michigan Avenue bridge and stood 50 feet high. The masonry tower was equipped with a birdcage-style lantern room. In 1852, with the completion of an extension to the north pier, a new lighthouse was constructed at the pier’s end, and the old 1832 structure, standing by Fort Dearborn, was decommissioned.

The most recent lighthouse is the current Chicago Harbor Light originally constructed in 1893 at the end of the harbor pier. In 1910, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began major improvements on the Chicago harbor. As part of this effort, the light was moved in 1917 to the end of the outer harbor breakwater where it stands today. The Chicago Harbor Light was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and later was designated a Chicago Landmark on April 9, 2003.

The historic Grosse Point Light is located in Evanston, Illinois. Following several shipping disasters because of the dangerous shoals nearby, Evanston residents successfully lobbied the federal government for a lighthouse. Construction was completed in 1873. The Grosse Point Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 1976. On January 20, 1999, the lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Beginning in the 1930s, the lighthouses of the Chicago area were gradually automated, making it unnecessary for the light keepers to reside in the buildings. In 1939, the Lighthouse Service became part of the Coast Guard.

The Chicago area lighthouses serve as are examples of how the U.S. Government played a vital role in developing the Great Lakes for use by the people and businesses. It was the lighthouse tower that helped to turn untamed inland seas into inland waterways.