Atop St. Mary’s Hill

Atop St. Mary’s Hill

St. Mary's Catholic Church, Port Washington, WIPort Washington is nick-named the City of Seven Hills and this post will cover a part of this city that’s high atop St. Mary’s Hill – one of the city’s most prominent hills. St. Mary’s Catholic Church sits on its perch and is visible from almost anywhere in the city. We saw it from Coal Dock Park in our last post (pictured above), and today we’ll see it up close.

“October 1, 1881- Very Reverend L. Batz, Vicar General, spent Sunday in the village. His special mission was in the interest of St. Mary’s Church. The object being the building of a new edifice, which is much needed to accommodate the large and constantly increasing congregation. He met with satisfactory encouragement, and the effort to erect a new building will be pushed with vigor. Fr. Willmes, the pastor of the church, will at once begin the work of raising the funds needed by subscription, as it is the intention to erect a building, which will be an ornament to the place, and the pride of the whole county. The style of architecture will be Gothic, and in all its departments complete tasteful, capacious, the size will be 64 by 135 feet, the spire looming skyward 160 feet.” – READ MORE history of St. Mary’s church

Within a couple of months, enough money was raised to start the project and it was dedicated in October 1884, with the tower clock being installed in January of 1885. I have never been inside, so for today you’ll have to settle for outside photos, which are pretty nice – especially if you’ve only worshipped it from afar from one of the vantage points of the city. But with the encouragement of a friend who HAS been inside, an interior tour will have to be taken, and photos added as soon as possible. So stay tuned!

The stairs (pictured below) look a lot less intimidating than they do when viewed from the bottom, which I’ll show you in another post. Even though I could really use the exercise, I chose to drive up the hill, come around the backside and park to see the church up close. Maybe you’ll take the steps?

If you continue past the church, you’ll come right up to the Historic 1860 Light Station, a fabulous structure – the first of three lights that would help protect travelers as they voyage on the treacherous waters of Lake Michigan.

While a lighthouse is a building with a powerful light that guides mariners, a light station is a grouping of buildings – one of which is a lighthouse. This historic light station includes a light tower, a keeper’s house, a generator building and garage, as well as a kerosene storage building.

“Port Washington’s first lighthouse was built on the city’s north bluff, overlooking the harbor, in 1849. This tower, detached from the keeper’s dwelling, was replaced in 1860 by a square, wooden tower mounted atop a new two-story brick residence for the keeper.” – READ MORE from

As you can see from the photos, there are some nice chairs where you can sit and relax for a while and enjoy the view. Sitting on the concrete bench (below) will have you feeling like your feet are dangling over the edge of the bluff! For you history buffs out there, be sure to read the great informational board that’s next to that bench. Titled “The Lights of Port Washington”, it contains some pictures of the original buildings, a timeline and some history of the light keepers who lived here.

“In late 2000 the Port Washington Historical Society embarked on the restoration of the 1849 Light Station, including the iconic 1860 lighthouse that guided 19th and early 20th century Lake traffic.

The destroyed tower and lantern were replicated by craftsmen of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and donated to the Society, while volunteers assisted by paid contractors restored the facades and recreated the interior of the living quarters and outbuildings. Visitors tour the restored quarters that depict the life of a lightkeeper and his family in the 19th century and enjoy spectacular views of Lake Michigan and surrounding area from the light tower. The former watch shack/backup generator building has additional museum exhibits that feature maritime and local memorabilia and historic artifacts.

The property, maintained and managed by Port Washington Historical Society volunteers, is sustained through private funding. Tours of this historic site are conducted by volunteer guides.” – From the Port Washington Historical Society website. For some great interior photos of the light station, click here.

portwashington_pier_1914_cgTours are offered on Fridays (12-4), Saturdays (11-4) and Sundays (12-4) from Memorial Day to mid-October. We took our first tour last summer and it was very interesting! A little tight squeeze to get up to the top, but so worth it. Volunteers give the tours and I am always amazed at the hard work and dedication it must have taken to be a lighthouse keeper back in the day.

The Pierhead Light (pictured at left) became the main light at Port Washington when the 1860 Light Station was decommissioned in 1903 after plans to improve the harbor were implemented. In 1935 that one was replaced by the “Art Deco” version that we know and love today. Almost always referred to as a lighthouse, it should really be called a pierhead light since it marks the outermost end of the breakwater and the entrance to the harbor of Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Click here for more history of the lights of Port Washington.

Next up: Beautiful downtown Port
Previous Post: Port Washington, Wisconsin: Part One

Happy trails,

Barbara Olson

Barbara Olson

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