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Plum and Pilot Islands
Before the establishment of the lighthouse on Plum Island, more than 100 ships were pounded into the shoals of Door County. In one year alone, Plum Island became the cemetery for 30 ships. Though safer than any U.S. highway today, it will never be sweat-free; as recently as 1989 a ship was thrown aground by the currents. The U.S. Lighthouse Service established the Pilot Island Lighthouse in 1858. It stands atop what an early guidebook described as “little more than a rock in the heavy-pounding seas.” Two brick structures stand on Pilot Island and are about the only things still visible. Once-dense vegetation has been nearly killed off, turned into a rocky field by the ubiquitous and odoriferous droppings of federally protected cormorants, which long ago found the island and stuck around.
Plum Island had to wait until 1897 to get its imposing 65-foot skeletal steel light, after which the mortality rate within the Door dropped significantly. Plum Island—so-called for its plumb-center position in the straits—is home to an abandoned Coast Guard building on the northeast side, an old foghorn building on the southwest tip, and yet another decaying Cape Cod–style lightkeeper’s residence near the range lights.
Neither island is accessible—unless your sea kayak runs into trouble—except for boat tours given during the Festival of Blossoms, usually offered three times daily from Gills Rock.
Steaming into Detroit Harbor on Washington Island, look to the starboard side. The island with the crab-claw bay is Detroit Island, one of the largest satellite islands surrounding Washington Island. Settlers built the first permanent structures on the island in the early 1830s and gradually forced the displacement of the resident Ottawa and Huron Indians, who had been there for generations. Once the island was an archaeological gem, but thieves have laid waste to it. Today it is privately owned and not accessible.
© Thomas Huhti from Moon Wisconsin, 5th Edition