by Paul Schumacher
for The Beacon
Plum and Pilot Islands are one of those special Door County places that are easy to love. Both islands have been home to maritime safety structures; lighthouses, range lights, fog signal buildings, crew’s quarters and boat houses for more than 100 years.
About 10 years ago, many of these structures were listed by the National Trust for Historic Places as some of the most historically endangered properties in the state.
The lighthouse on Pilot Island was built by 1858, and helped guide sailing, and later steam ships past the treacherous east entrance to Deaths Door and the shoals that are at the NE tip of the Door County peninsula.
In 1896, additional maritime safety structures were added at Plum Island, which aided the passage through Deaths Door and provided rescue services for ships that floundered in the area.
The brave life-saving crews fought high winds and treacherous seas to rescue crew and passengers of ships.
While we are a relatively young state, and nation, these structures represent our history – they aided in early settling of eastern Wisconsin, prior to rail, and aided in the movement of timber, and later iron ore that helped build this area of our young nation.
Even though by European standards, these are relatively new buildings, they represent our history, and are worth saving for future generations to learn about early maritime history.
Time has not been kind to these buildings – they stood empty after the Coast Guard moved their operations to newer, and in some cases, more distant locations. The Islands, with all buildings were transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2007. About that same time, a not-for-profit organization, The Friends of Plum and Pilot Island (FOPPI) were formed to work with the USFWS as a partner in preserving and protecting the maritime structures.
With the help of contractors, such as Moore Quality Exteriors, the partnership has been able to replace leaking roofs, add gutters to critical buildings, replace broken and leaking windows, and preserve and protect these structures.
Much work remains – the waterside structures (piers, breakwalls, etc) on both islands are in critical need for repair and more roofs are aging and require replacement,
The past several years have seen significant work with Moore Quality Exteriors, and other contractors, with period style gutters added to the Crews Quarters, a new metal roof added to the Pilot Island summer kitchen, along with gutters on the Pilot Island lighthouse.
FOPPI and USFWS have been impressed with the workmanship of these projects. Other contractors have helped to restore the range lights on Plum Island, rebuilt windows and doors for the Crews quarters, and constructed new door sections for the boathouse.
In the overall plan – the partnership has a good start at protecting these buildings, and restoring them to their prior condition. Much work remains, requiring the talent, time, and especially the treasury of volunteers and granting organizations.
Without this attention, these structures will decay and be lost for future generations to reflect on the bravery and dedication it took to maintain safe passage for settlers, and cargo moving through this area.
If you agree that places like Plum and Pilot islands really do matter, please consider getting involved with FOPPI. The organization is always looking for more active volunteers willing to serve on work projects. New board members are needed to roll their sleeves up and get involved. And a talented grant writer, willing to volunteer his/her expertise, is especially necessary for FOPPI to carry out its preservation mission. Please contact Mary Beth Volmer at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like more information on how to get involved.
Check out these websites to learn more about FOPPI and the islands that make up the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge:
‘We’re proud to be part of this’
by Chad Moore
for The Beacon
We spent several weeks in the last couple years preparing and planning for the little time we actually got to be on Pilot Island due to protection for nesting birds and weather conditions.
We transported our roll-forming machines from Sheboygan to the Washington Island ferry which carried our crew, machines and materials from the Door County mainland to Washington Island.
We then stayed at several places on Washington Island based on availability. They included Steffens Cedar Lodge, Townliner Inn and The Jackson Harbor Inn.
From Washington Island we were then transported from Jackson harbor by Wildlife Fish and Game back and forth from Pilot island to Washington Island where we loaded and unloaded supplies for the roofing project.
It has been an honor to be part of such a wonderful effort. The people involved in the preservation of these buildings are first class and fun to work with. Even with all its challenges, the rewards from projects like this are great.