These lights are unique in Wisconsin and rare among the lighthouses of the upper Great Lakes. Most harbors used single lights to warn ships of hazards or mark the entrance to a port. But Baileys Harbor employed two beacons to guide ships into the bay. At four miles’ distance, a ship’s captain would align the white and red lights into a vertical plane and head straight in toward the anchorage. By helping ships move safely around the complicated sandbars at the entrance to the bay, the lights opened the door for Baileys Harbor to become a port.
Carpenter Breitbach of Detroit erected one of the range lights on the beach and the second approximately 0.2 miles inland. He placed the lower light in a white wooden tower sheathed with vertical weatherboard. The first story is about eight feet square with a lancet window, and the second is octagonal with a low-pitched roof. The light itself, a fixed red lens, shone twenty-two feet above the water through a rectangular single-pane window. Breitbach placed the upper range light—a fixed white lens thirty-nine feet above water level—in a gabled wooden room atop the roof of the keeper’s house. The clapboard house has a small shed-roofed porch with decorative wooden columns. A privy and an oil storage house complete the historic complex.
The range lights served Baileys Harbor until 1969. Today, the keeper’s house serves as a summer residence for naturalists at the Ridges Sanctuary, a wildlife refuge conceived in part by landscape architect Jens Jensen.