Weekend in the Chambers Island Lighthouse
A few months ago, I was put in touch with a lady by the name of Mary Ann Blahnik. Mary Ann and her husband Joel, are the caretakers of the Chambers Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse and the grounds are located on the western side of the remote island in the bay of Green Bay, about 7 miles from Fish Creek and are a public park under the jurisdiction of the Town of Gibraltar. Mary Ann and Joel, along with their family, have been the caretakers since the town acquired the grounds and structures in March of 1976.
Upon contacting Mary Ann, she was warm and welcoming as I explained what I was setting out to do. She invited me and my wife, Heather to spend a weekend at the lighthouse with her. The weekend of July 14th and 15th, we were finally able to make it to the island!
For $30/person each way, Captain Gerry Schwaller of Classic Boat Tours took us out to the island. It's an epic bargain for those without a boat big enough to travel open, volatile water.
When we got on the island, Mary Ann brought the van she keeps on the island to the dock and we piled into it. She then showed us around the island, navigating the dirt and gravel roads that criss cross the island. We saw the grounds of the Catholic Retreat that closed in 2014 and demolished several years ago. We saw the inland lake of the island, and the most beautiful log cottage I've ever seen. Finally, Mary Ann's van chugged along the partially washed out dirt road and up the hill to the lighthouse. Peeking through the trees ahead of us, we saw the cream city yellow brick and octagonal tower coming into view. The rough dirt road and the canopy of trees hanging over it, make it easy to imagine light keepers on the island coming up the same hill on their horse after visiting an island neighbor for lunch. The lighthouse itself hasn't changed much from those "horse and buggy" days. The biggest difference is the absence of the lantern at the top of the tower. The aid to navigation was moved to a skeleton tower a short distance from the house and is powered by a solar panel. The house itself does not have power, but a solar panel provides very basic power to a couple lights in the kitchen and living room (Eagle Bluff's dining room). The original outhouse (or Privy) sits outside, now equipped with running water from the cistern (rain water collection basin) in the basement of the house. A couple modern touches that are in the house are the gas powered refrigerator and stove/oven.
We spent the next few hours filming, working up quite a sweat. We decided to go cool off at the nearby island "hot spot," the bay on the western end of the island, near the lighthouse, where boaters raft their crafts together in a true "Redneck Yacht Club" style party.
We got back to the lighthouse and cooked dinner on the grill and did some more filming. When the sun went down, we all sat in the kitchen and talked about life, lighthouses and island living before retiring to our rooms for the night. Those of you that have been to Eagle Bluff Lighthouse will understand the layout of Chambers Island lighthouse, as the floor plan is nearly identical. Mary Ann's room on Chambers Island is the Music Room (with the piano) at Eagle Bluff. The room we slept in was the same as Eagle Bluff's formal parlor.
Waking up the next morning, we wrapped up filming and closed up the lighthouse to head back! Gerry met us back at the marina and took us back to Fish Creek, detouring to check out the Strawberry Island chain and the Eagle Bluff lighthouse before heading back. Now, the process of combing through the hours of footage and thousands of pictures begins. Check out some of the pictures I've already gone through in the gallery above!
If you love Door County lighthouses, please be sure to check out the trailer for "Lighting the Door" and get more info about the film here. Also there's still time to donate or sponsor! Check out the Support page for more info and to easily and safely donate through Go Fund Me!
Thank you for helping keep the lights burning!
- Jake Heffernan
Producer of "Lighting the Door"
Quarterdeck Media, LLC