Illinois Grosse Point Lighthouse, in Evanston, just south of Chicago, looks out over majestic Lake Michigan. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1999.
The two and a half story Italianate style building, of which the lighthouse is part, is one of the most beautiful and charming of its kind anywhere. It is plain white, but the roof and windows are brownish red. The windows on the ground floor are longer than those on the top floor. At the top is a pair of much smaller bay windows. The lighthouse itself towers above the building, at a height of 113 feet.
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History behind Illinois Grosse Point Lighthouse
Grosse Point dates back to 1873, the year after Evanston was founded. The shoals along the shore in the area were (and are!) very dangerous. Many ships had been wrecked there. In addition, maritime traffic in lower Lake Michigan was increasing, owing to an increase in trade in the region and especially because of the destruction caused by the Gresaat
Fire of 1871. There were many lighthouses in Chicago, but they were not proving to be very efficient.
Over the following decades, improvements to the lighthouse were made. A pair of fog signal buildings was added in 1880, followed twenty years later by a fuel supply building. In 1914, a ring of concrete was added to the structure, which had previously been constructed of metal, brick, and glass. In 1923, electrification was done on the lighthouse, making possible the elimination of one of the three keepers; and in 1934, the addition of automation allowed keepers to be dispensed with altogether. Six years later, the lighthouse was deactivated; it was reactivated, however, in 1946 as a “Private Aid to Navigation.” In 1976, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the first lighthouse west of the Atlantic Ocean to be so designated.
Illinois Grosse Point Lighthouse Today
Since 1935, Grosse Point Lighthouse has been under the authority of the Lighthouse Park District, a local government unit on a par with the state’s counties. These authorities set up a Lighthouse Preservation Fund in 1989 to preserve the structure as a place of historic interest. The Smithsonian Institution and the Illinois Association of Museums, among other organizations, have awarded those who work in such preservation. Individuals can also make their own personal contributions.
Grosse Point uses one of only seventy Fresnel lenses still in use in the United States, of which sixteen are in other lighthouses in the Great Lakes region. The Fresnel lens, named after its inventor, was first used in 1823 and is composed of a bunch of smaller lenses, allowing for a single structure that is light in proportion to its diameter and has a short focal length.
There are also a number of legends associated with Grosse Point Lighthouse. The seventeenth century French priest and explorer Jacques Marquette, for instance, is supposed to have visited the site where it now stands, on his way to visit the Indians who lived in what is now Illinois. There is no evidence to confirm this story.
One last note: the Illinois Grosse Point Lighthouse does not have wedding or other social event facilities.