Cana Island, slightly north of Baileys Harbor in Door County, Wisconsin, is connected to the mainland by a long, stony causeway. On the day that we visited, the weather was distinctly threatening and it wouldn’t have taken much, I imagined, for the waters of Lake Michigan to completely cover our only means of egress from this lonely little spot.
We had arrived rather late in the afternoon and the wind was whipping the waves towards the shore as we trudged across in order to see Cana’s one claim to fame, the Cana Island Light which first saw service as a lighthouse in 1870. In 1880 it faced the ferocious ‘Alpena Gale’ when the lower level was completely flooded, forcing the occupants to climb to higher ground. Despite the island’s warning light, seven ships were lost near Cana during this storm including the 654-ton steamer, Alpena, with considerable loss of life.
Although the lighthouse itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment – it was undergoing repairs and much of it was fenced off – the weather and lighting conditions, instead of working against us, imbued the little 8.7-acre island with a certain atmospheric quality that was quite intriguing.
Several of these mini-cairns lined the causeway, left by previous visitors to the island, probably in a light-hearted moment but just then they seemed like a cry from the past; a warning or a sad reminder.
Originally, the 89ft-tall Cana Light was perched on a somewhat larger pile of rocks but, in 1900, crews working with eight teams of horses and wagons hauled in tons of top soil to eventually provide a grassed-over area around the lighthouse.