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Range lights off Door County must wait for $200,000 restoration

Pictured is the LAST surviving Duluth-style Life Saving Station on the Great Lakes.

Due to the threat of COVID-19, the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands delayed the restoration of two range lights on Plum Island to be funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region.

Pilot Island 1859 Lighthouse

“We are pleased to have been chosen to receive this grant in honor of the Nelsons and their interest in our Door County lights,” FOPPI President Mary Beth Volmer said. “The work this grant allows us to do will continue the legacy of these historic maritime structures for future generations.”

But the group delayed acceptance of the grant until 2021 rather than have workman do the restoration in such close quarters during the pandemic. Work on the historic structures is expected to be completed by September 2021.

The grant money will be used to restore and repaint white iron-framed range lights located on Plum, part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 65-foot light, opened in 1889 and automated in 1969, played an important part in the early industrialization of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, guiding ships carrying supplies, goods and people heading to and from the East or Chicago through the dangerous waters of Death’s Door. The lights were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Work on the front range light, located on the south eastern part of Plum Island, will include removal of soil around the light, which may contain lead paint that flaked off the structure for many years. Paint will be removed from both that structure and the rear range light, located on the northwest section of Plum near the lighthouse keeper’s quarters. It can be viewed across from Northport, on Door County’s mainland.

Plum Island Rear and Front Range Lights

Paint on the inside and outside of the rear range light will be tested for lead, then safely removed so the structure can be repainted. The rust red roof will be repainted, and the plexiglass windows will be replaced with real glass.

The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation is a permanent, donor-advised endowment that will generate millions of dollars in grants annually to charitable organizations reflecting the philanthropic interests, primarily in the Fox Cities and Green Bay areas, of the late David and Rita Nelson and their family. These interests include parks, recreation and waterways; education; health care; community services and community centers; historic preservation and history, including lighthouses, museums and historical societies; and community catalyst.

Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.

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