Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay History

After the completion of the privately owned Sturgeon Bay & Lake Michigan Ship Canal in 1880, land was transferred to the U.S. Government in 1884 for both a light and life saving station. After the opening of bids in 1885, the contract was awarded to Maxted & Newcomb of Manistee, MI for $4,560. It was completed in the summer of 1886 and William Nequette was appointed as the station's first keeper. In February 1893, Congress appropriated $103,000 to purchase the privately owned Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. In 1899, the Corp. began a widening and deepening project. The width was to be 160 feet at the lane end and 190 feet at the bay end. Due to the shifting of the revetment on the north side of the canal, the project required the station to be jacked up and moved back 50 feet.

A notable rescue occurred on October 10, 1895, when the two-masted schooner OTTER went aground in Whitefish Bay. At 9:10 A.M. a telephone message was received at the station that the "schooner OTTER was laying one quarter of a mile ashore and flying a signal of distress." From Sturgeon Bay, the life savers and their equipment were transported 12 miles north by horse and wagon. Arriving at 11:30 A.M., the surfmen promptly set up their beach apparatus and landed a successful shot with their Lyle gun. Using a breeches buoy, the six imperiled people were landed on shore shortly before the schooner fell to pieces and was a total loss.

On May 25, 1944, the only death of Coast Guard station personnel in Door County occurred when Machinist Mate Second Class Lewis E. Wells fell into the canal and drowned. At that time, crewmembers were performing maintenance on the grounds and no one saw it happen. The resulting splash drew attention, but it is still unknown whether he tripped, hit his head, or suffered some other medical emergency. Another crewmember dove in and after two dives, retrieved the body. No resuscitation efforts were successful.