top of page
Pilot Island (Drone Wide).jpg

Pilot Island Lighthouse


1858: Pilot Island Lighthouse is built. William Shurtleff transferred from the 1st Plum Island Lighthouse and is the first keeper of the new Pilot Island Light Station. The 1st Plum Island Lighthouse is abandoned after only 9 years of service. 


1859: Mathew Garey is appointed as the new keeper.


1861: E.T. Wells is appointed as the new keeper.

1862: Pilot Island Lighthouse given a 500lb bell, struck in foggy weather. 


1863: John C. Kenward is appointed as the new keeper.


1864: D.A. Read is appointed as the new keeper and is later replaced by Jacob H. Stahl.
A wooden fog signal building was installed south of the lighthouse. It was one of the first fog signals on the Great Lakes and consisted of an Ericsson Caloric Engine powering a trumpet.


1865: John C. Kenward is appointed as the new keeper.


1866: Lt. Victor E. Rohn is appointed as the new keeper. John Kenward moves to Illinois.


1875: A first-class steam siren is installed as the fog signal. It was later reported this was one of the loudest signals on the lakes.


1876: Emanuel Davidson is appointed as the new keeper.


1880: A second wooden building housing duplicate fog signal equipment is built to lessen the chances that the siren will be inoperable.


1883: Peter Knudsen is appointed as the new keeper.


1888: Nelson Knudsen, Peter’s younger brother, is appointed as the new keeper.


1889: Martin N. Knudsen, Nelson and Peter’s brother, is appointed as the new keeper.


1891: A new pier and boat house were built on the west side of the island. A new lens is also installed in the lantern room, going from flashing white to fixed red.


- Oct 17: Schooner J.E. Gilmore grounds on Pilot Island in a storm.

Oct 28: Schooner A.P. Nichols grounds on Pilot Island in a storm. Keeper Knudsen rescued all eight crewmembers aboard the ship.


1894: The lens is replaced once again with a fixed white light that would flash every 15-seconds as well. The sirens were replaced with 10" diameter steam whistles. Characteristic was 5-second blast every 35-seconds.


1897: Gottfried M.S. Hansen is appointed as the new keeper, replacing Martin Knudsen who was appointed keeper of the newly-built Plum Island Range Light Station.

1898, December: Assistant Keeper Peder Pederson is killed when the sailboat he is in capsizes on the way to Detroit Island. Assistant Keeper Charles Boshka is unharmed.

1901: Lighthouse is remodeled to a duplex configuration. Summer kitchens built behind each side. Fog Signal building #1 is remodeled to quarters for the 2nd Assistant Keeper and his family.


1903: Charles Bavry is appointed as the new keeper.


1904: The brick fog signal building is built, equipped with duplicate 16 horsepower diesel engines, each driving an air compressor. A siren was reinstalled as the signal, powered by compressed air. 


1907: Henry R. Bevry is appointed as the new keeper.


1913: Samuel C. Jacobsen is appointed as the new keeper.


1914: Walter Ottosen is appointed as the new keeper.


1920: Robert G. Young is appointed as the new keeper.


1925: George I. Hass is appointed as the new keeper.


1935: Clarence J. Anderson is appointed as the new keeper.

1944: The fog siren is replaced by duplicate two-tone diaphones (view photo)
(How they work) YouTube


1945: Anderson leaves as the keeper. The Coast Guard continues to staff the light.


1962, June 13: The fog signal is no longer considered essential to assist shipping and is removed. The Coast Guard removes its personnel and installed an automatic light.

Pilot Island Decomissioning logbook

Logbook pages from the day the Pilot Island Lighthouse was converted to an unmanned station

2007: Pilot and Plum Island are handed over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


2008: Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, Inc. was formed, dedicated to preserving historic structures on both islands.

2009: Roof on the Pilot Island Lighthouse replaced

2022: Summer kitchen roof replaced with metal roof. New gutters & downspouts installed


Pilot Island Lighthouse Interesting Facts


July 4, 1874 Keeper Rohn was unable to leave the island to attend any Fourth of July celebrations because of a strong southeast gale - much to his dismay.

"Independence day came in fine after a heavy southeast gale. This island affords about as much independence and liberty as Libby Prison, with the difference of guards in favor of this place, and chance of outside communication in favor of the other."


In 1880, John Boyce, the second assistant under Keeper Emmanuel Davidson, committed suicide. Many thought it was because of the loneliness and isolation of the island but his relatives said it was depression due to a failed relationship.


When Keeper Martin Knudsen was assigned to Pilot Island the second time in 1889, a family friend provided a ride for his family cow, Nellie, when she could not ride on the Lighthouse Tender with the rest of the family. The waters were too rough around Pilot Island when Knudsen’s friends were to drop off Nellie. Instead they pushed Nellie overboard near Plum Island, where she swam safely to shore and was later picked up when the waters calmed.


Keeper Martin Knudsen received a lifesaving silver medal after rescuing eight crewmembers from a schooner that ran aground on the reef around Pilot Island.

Friends of Plum and Pilot Island works under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS)  Friends Policy  (633 FW 1), and within the 2022 Friends Partnership Agreement with the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

For the purposes of historic preservation, our partnership is maintained  to meet National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requirements, and with its implementing of regulation 36 CFR Part 800. All work that we conduct in partnership with the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge follows  The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties  and  The Secretary of the Interior Professional Qualifications Standards.

Plans for treatments on all structures on the National Register of Historic Places found at Plum and Pilot islands are, at minimum,  preservative  in nature as defined in the Standards. This will avoid any “Adverse Effect” determinations while consulting with Wisconsin's State Historic Preservation Office and the USFWS.

For information regarding plans and strategies for historic preservation at the refuge, please contact

bottom of page