This Place Still Matters

by Tim Sweet

Plum Island is one of those special Door County places that’s easy to love. It’s a 325-acre island that’s located plumb in the middle of Death’s Door and packed with more maritime history than probably any other place in the entire state of Wisconsin.

The lighthouses on Plum Island are going to be getting a real shot in the arm next year thanks to a generous grant from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund, which is part of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The front range light will receive a new coat of paint and foundation repairs, and the 65-foot-tall rear range light will be undergoing a makeover on its lantern room that will include new paint and windows. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently funded the cost of a new roof, lead-paint abatement and several coats of fresh paint for the island’s former Coast Guard lifesaving station.

Window-restoration work is expected to take place on this historic structure thanks to a donation that the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (FOPPI) received from an anonymous foundation. Soon, visitors will be able to tour the interior of the 1896 building – the only Duluth-type lifesaving station remaining on the Great Lakes. Climbing to the top of the historic lighthouse tower provides an awe-inspiring view of the Porte des Morts passage. The scene from the pinnacle of the watch tower’s lookout will certainly be one to treasure. 

FOPPI is in the process of raising funds to reroof the island’s fog-signal building and the 1939 boathouse. Furthermore, money has been encumbered, or obligated, to pay for the restoration of a metal roof on the summer kitchen of the nearby Pilot Island lighthouse, as well as the installation of gutters and downspouts on the 1858 building next summer.

Ten years ago, FOPPI and the USFWS sponsored a trip to Plum Island for a group of Girl Scouts. At the time, the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Places had listed the island’s historic maritime structures as some of the most endangered properties in the state. The girls posed in front of the neglected lifesaving station holding up a sign that said, “This place matters.”

If you agree that places such as Plum and Pilot islands do still matter, consider getting involved with FOPPI. The organization is always looking for more active volunteers who are eager to serve on work projects. It needs new board members to help plan and problem solve. And a talented grant writer who’s willing to volunteer his or her expertise is especially necessary for FOPPI to carry out its preservation mission. 

Contact Tim Sweet at [email protected] to discuss how you could participate in these efforts. Learn more about FOPPI at, and about the islands that make up the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge at

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