No visit to The Ridges would be complete without experiencing the iconic Baileys Harbor Range Lights.
Built in 1869, at a cost of $6,000, the Range Lights guided ships into the safety of Baileys Harbor for a century. These modest but enduring structures played a critical role in the history of Baileys Harbor and in the founding of The Ridges. They are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In those early days, Baileys Harbor was considered the only harbor of refuge north of Milwaukee. The town was the county seat and a busy logging center, shipping cordwood, cedar posts, poles, and hemlock bark (for tanning leather) to other Great Lakes ports. A safe harbor was essential to the peninsula, especially on the Lake Michigan side, because the road between Baileys Harbor and Sturgeon Bay – today’s State Highway 57 — wasn’t built until 1870.
At the time they were built, the Range Lights were considered a more effective way to keep ships off the treacherous reefs and shallows at the entrance to Baileys Harbor. From the water, a sailor got “on range” by vertically aligning the white light in the Upper Range Light, which shone at a height of 39 feet above the water, with the Lower Range Light’s red beacon, fixed at 22 feet above the water.
The Upper Range Light was home to eight lighthouse keepers and their families. In 1930, the lamps were replaced by automated electric lights and keepers were no longer needed.
In 1935, permission was granted to the Door County Park Commission to use the lighthouse acreage, except for the land immediately surrounding the two range lights, as a park. A few years later, the commissioners decided to clear some of the land for use as a trailer park. Led by Albert Fuller, Curator or Botany at the Milwaukee Public Museum, residents of Baileys Harbor and the surrounding area joined together and formed The Ridges Sanctuary in 1937 to stop the development and preserve the unique terrain.
Today The Ridges Sanctuary staff, members and volunteers have become the new keepers of the lights, dedicated to the preservation of the structures and their cultural history.
Currently, the Range Lights are open for public viewing during the Door County Maritime Museum’s annual Lighthouse Festival, and to groups by special appointment. During the remainder of the year, the Range Lights are not open to the public, but can be viewed from the Sanctuary’s hiking trails.