The Michigan Street steel bridge opens to let a boat pass. Photo by Jessica Gatzow.
As I left the Sturgeon Bay Steel Bridge, heading south on Michigan Street, the Door County Maritime Museum’s newest attraction appeared: the Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower. As the tallest building in Door County, it overlooks the historically rich and geographically distinctive Sturgeon Bay.
The idea for a lighthouse tower arose out of the museum’s need for more exhibition space 20 years ago, and today the $ 7.2 million construction project offers a way to educate the public on the great maritime involvement of Sturgeon Bay. The George R. Kress Foundation donated $ 1 million to honor longtime sailor Jim Kress, whose tower is named after. After his baptism in May, it is now open to the public.
Museum visitors can admire the rain or shine behind the large windows on three sides of the 10th floor, or they can watch from the Baumgartner rooftop observation deck. It’s like traveling miles of Sturgeon Bay as the crow flies: just below, tugs were lined up at Sarter Marine Towing, and across the bay to the left, 1,000-foot ships were moored. at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, including a Marinette Coastal Warship.
Floors two to nine of the tower are work in progress, but three of them are expected to be completed by fall and the rest by May 2022. Each floor will provide a different interactive experience, with the surroundings Door County maritime, peninsular, shipping, commerce, shipbuilding, boating, fishing and shipwrecks as themes. For now, an elevator takes visitors directly from the first floor – where an informational video is shown – to the 10th.
User-friendly interactive kiosks are installed under each set of windows that complete the viewing experience without distracting from the view. They display an image of the view outside each window, with numbers that label the landmarks. Wondering what this building is in the distance? Curious about the meaning of each bridge? Just click on the corresponding numbered image on the kiosk and you will find pictures and descriptions for the Sturgeon Bay Canal Lighthouse, Bayview Bridge or any other major landmarks you can see from the tower.
Ready for the outdoor viewing experience, I walked up a flight of stairs to the rooftop observation deck. Those who don’t mind heights will appreciate the panoramic perspective of Sturgeon Bay. On the day I visited, the boats were shining and the water sparkled in the sun, and the wind was gentle enough to give me time to take in the views. The panoramic roof terrace is accessible from May to October.
The water in Sturgeon Bay looks incredibly vast when viewed from above. This perspective, along with information from the 10th Floor exhibit, explains the bay’s importance as a maritime hub: As only 7,400 feet remained to connect Green Bay and Lake Michigan, the workers dug the remaining path, and by 1890 their efforts finally offered full sea transport that did not involve passage through the dangerous Porte des Morts. The navigation channel is not that visible from the lighthouse tower, but the aerial perspective allows you to see where the bay seeps into it.
I heard a tugboat below ring the end of a tour and noticed the distant rumble of cars passing over the bridges that frame the lighthouse tower. The Michigan Street Bridge – or “steel bridge” – briefly halted traffic as a ship passed, and I saw two sections of the bridge gradually rise as a CenterPointe Yacht Services vessel left its dock for head towards Green Bay.
The tower offers a new perspective on familiar sites such as these, and it will certainly enlighten visitors on some unfamiliar sites.