Maritime Lighthouse Tower Experience

Welcome to the Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower!

The Door County Maritime Museum, located on the working waterfront of Sturgeon Bay in northeast Wisconsin, has celebrated and shared the rich maritime history of Door County and the Great Lakes for more than 50 years. Now, the Museum is expanding our main location with the landmark Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower. Exhibits within the Tower will use state-of-the-art interactives designed to capture the imagination, immerse visitors in the experience of Wisconsin’s rich nautical heritage, and inspire the next generation of Wisconsin’s workforce.

The Maritime Lighthouse Tower visitor experience will begin in the first floor Theater. Guests will then take the elevator to the top, and make their way down through each floor of exhibits. The educational, interactive exhibit themes for each floor in the Maritime Lighthouse Tower include:

  • 1st Floor – Theater. Introductory presentation about Door County maritime history, outlining what guests will see and learn throughout the Tower.
  • 10th Floor – Our Working Waterfront. The working waterfront of Sturgeon Bay as it is today. Using interactive exhibits, visitors will also see what this busy port looked like decades ago when sailing schooners and steamships dotted the water like trucks on a modern highway. 
    • Baumgartner Observation Deck –  The 11th floor outdoor observation deck will be seasonally available to visitors, May to October.
  • 9th Floor – Our Maritime Environment. The natural history and geology of our rocky peninsula, highlighting our connection to the Niagara Escarpment. The Escarpment was formed when glaciers more than a mile thick gouged out soft shale and left harder dolomite exposed. These glaciers gave shape to the Great Lakes, the world’s largest single supply of fresh water.
  • 8th Floor – Maritime People. From Native Americans and early settlers, to today’s tourist economy. Even though the most recent permanent Native American and European settlers came to Door County in the past few centuries, archaeological evidence suggests Door County has been continuously inhabited by humans since 10,000 BC. Early permanent settlements date back 2,000 years; the dominant Native American tribe in the region were the Potawatomi. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the immigration and settlement of pioneers, mariners, fishermen, loggers and farmers. The County has been a significant tourism destination for more than a century.
  • 7th Floor – Maritime Navigation. From dugout canoes to modern 1,000-foot freighters, navigating the local waters has always been challenging. How different generations found their way on the water, including an interactive chart table, explanation of range lights and lighthouses, sextants and more.
  • 6th Floor – Maritime Commerce. Maritime commerce in what is now Wisconsin has its roots in the days of the early French fur trade. Lumber from Wisconsin’s forests was ferried to Eastern markets by hundreds of tall sailing ships. Since the 1860s, natural resources mined in Wisconsin have been transported to distant ports and mills by Great Lakes freighters. The 1.3-mile-long Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal connects the Bay of Green Bay to Lake Michigan and opened for large-scale watercraft in 1890: exhibits will consider why and how it was built, and what impact it has even today.
  • 5th Floor – Shipbuilding. The history of shipbuilding in Door County, paying respect to those who established our contemporary local maritime history. The exhibit focuses on the work of Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, the county’s largest employer, building and maintaining the Great Lakes fleet. The exhibit will include an interactive, moveable touchscreen that will give users the ability to view the detailed engineering of each section of a freighter and learn all that goes into building these fascinating vessels.
  • 4th Floor – Recreational Boating. Featuring all types of boating, including small craft and luxury yachts, sail, power and paddle sports. Not only were high-end recreational boats and yachts designed and built here, but everyday boaters – from fisherman to skiers – share the waters of Door County. One highlight of this floor will be an interactive Boating Skills Virtual Trainer, where kids can virtually drive – hopefully safely – through the Sturgeon Bay canal.
  • 3rd Floor – Fishing. The evolution and role of commercial and recreational fishing, the various species in the waters of Door County – both natural and invasive – and the status of each. Exhibit includes a large format touchscreen that will feature projections of native fish species swimming by; when users touch the fish on-screen, a dialog box will open, providing detailed information about that particular fish, and its place in the food chain. When a projected boat goes by, the user can tap that image to learn more about both commercial and recreational vessels.
  • 2nd Floor – Shipwrecks of Door County. There are more than 275 shipwrecks in the waters of Door County; many in less than 60 feet of water. There are ancient schooners and modern steamers, all at the lake bottom. The cold waters of Lake Michigan do an amazing job of preserving these wrecks. The exhibit explores maritime life on the Great Lakes and the inherent dangers that throughout history have sent scores of ships to a watery grave. The science of underwater exploration, the impact of invasive species, and how the cold water preserves these wrecks.

DCMM educational programs emphasize the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math (STEAM) in the area’s rich maritime economy. Exhibits in the Maritime Lighthouse Tower will fill a current void in the area to strengthen connections between business and industry with regional K-12 school districts and higher education institutions. Our primary intent is to encourage children and young adults to consider one of many well-paying technical careers in the area and break the cycle of poverty in our local community. Exhibits and programs within the Tower will use high-tech, interactive exhibits designed to capture the imagination of the next generation of Wisconsin’s workforce. No other museum environment in this region of Wisconsin has a similar kind of immersive educational experience.

Additional Tower Project Information