Volume 1, Issue 1 - April, 2023


Dear Friends,

It is with great joy that we welcome you to the first newsletter of the Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. Our mission is to preserve, restore and celebrate this iconic lighthouse in order to bring it back to its former glory and ensure it remains a shining beacon of hope for future generations.

The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse holds a special place in the hearts of many who visit and who call this great city home. Initially built during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and moved to its current location in 1917, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse has stood the test of time and weathered the storms of Lake Michigan. 

For more than a century, it has guided mariners entering and departing Chicago Harbor. Now, it is our turn to return this magnificent structure to its original beauty. Restoring the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse will not be easy or inexpensive, but it is a challenge we are willing to undertake. 

We are inspired by the spirit of those who came before us and the sense of community this project has already fostered. We have received overwhelming support from the local community and beyond, which we count on to see us through to the end.

The restoration of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is not just about restoring a physical structure. It is about preserving a piece of history and creating a brighter future for our city. 

We believe that this project will inspire people of all backgrounds and ages to come together and work towards a common goal. It will serve as a reminder of the resilience and determination of the people of Chicago.

As we embark on this journey, we invite you to join us. Whether you are a volunteer, a donor, or supporter, your contribution will make a difference. If you are interested in volunteering, please visit our volunteer page at savethelighthouse.org/volunteer to learn more. If you would like to donate to our mission, click the Donate to Support button below.

Together, we can restore the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse and create a legacy that will last for generations. I appreciate your support, and we look forward to updating you on our progress in future newsletters.

Be Safe and Be Well!


Kurt Lentsch

Chief Dreamer and President, Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse

Donate to Support

Even a small donation could help Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse

reach our fundraising goal.

And if you can't make a donation, it would be great if you could

share the fundraiser to help spread the word.

Your contribution will enable us to offset the start-up costs for

the Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse and begin the work of

preservation and restoration... We are very grateful for your generosity.

The Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is a 501c3 organization so please make a tax-deductible gift to help us Save the Lighthouse!



FCHL Board Photos by: John Sheehan



Kurt Lentsch

Chief Dreamer and President

A member of the Chicago boating community for over 20 years, Kurt Lentsch has cruised past the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse hundreds of times. Along with his fellow boaters, from a front-row seat, he watched this iconic structure deteriorate to the condition it is in today. Something needed to be done to save Chicago’s quintessential symbol of maritime history. The dream began.

In March 2022, Kurt took action. He walked into the Illinois Secretary of State's Office on Washington Street with the dream and a stack of papers. The dream was to preserve, restore and celebrate the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse and the papers were the documents forming the Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity.

One year later, with Working Groups in place, including preservation, construction, fundraising, communications, and community outreach teams, the Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is ready to make this dream come true.

“For more than a century, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse has guided sailors and provided security to those on the water,” says Kurt. “Now, it is our turn to return this magnificent structure to its original beauty.”

A logistics executive from Chicago’s Western Suburbs, Kurt is well-known in the Chicago boating community. He and his family enjoy cruising Lake Michigan on their power boat, Anna Marie. A past board member of the Burnham Park Yacht Club and the Chicago Yacht Club, Kurt also served as chair of the Chicago Yacht Club’s Power Fleet. A United States Coast Guard licensed captain and a member of the USCG Auxiliary since 2001, Kurt is also the Administrator of the Chicago Boaters Community, a Facebook group focused on boat safety and boating in Chicago with more than 7000 members.

Marie Huscher

Vice President

As the daughter of a charter boat captain, Marie Huscher spent her childhood learning the ins and outs of boating safety on Lake Michigan and the Chain O’Lakes. Nowadays, she spends her summers cruising Lake Michigan on her powerboat Blue Watercolors that she docks at Burnham Harbor.

In 2017, she received her 100-ton United States Coast Guard Master's License, enabling her to captain a Wendella tour boat and Water Taxi, both on the Chicago River and the lakefront.

“I really enjoy the opportunity to show off Chicago’s waterways to so many people,” she says, “Unheralded gems like the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse really surprise and amaze people. I’ve always been charmed by the beauty of Great Lakes lighthouses, so of course, I jumped at the opportunity to help save and preserve our own iconic structure.”

A Chicagoland native, Marie attended Northern Illinois University, where she graduated with a B.F.A. in Interior Architecture followed by her master’s in Business Administration. She has enjoyed a long and successful career in corporate real estate, design, and facilities operations for such organizations as Motorola, Baxter, Nielsen, Diageo, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

An ardent preservationist, Marie turned her passion into a residential property investment business called Studio M Investments & Design, Inc. In this role, she has rebuilt and repurposed a wide range of buildings including Greystones, bungalows, and riverfront cottages, substantially increasing their value along the way. In 2016, Marie received Best Interior Rehabilitation Honorable Mention for her renovation of a North Side bungalow from the Chicago Bungalow Association.

Marie will chair the Construction Working Group for Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse.

Steve Clements


Steve has sailed on Lake Michigan each summer since his teens. During the summer months, he lives on his current, 38-foot sailboat, Escapade with husband CJ in Burnham Harbor. Having sailed past the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse countless times, always with a sense of awe and curiosity, Steve understands the significance of the lighthouse to Chicago more than most.

“When one thinks about Chicago’s history, the importance of our location, where the Chicago River and the Great Lakes meet, can’t be underestimated. The commercial traffic that made Chicago Harbor such a busy place and put Chicago on the map wouldn’t have been possible without the evolution of lighthouses that have existed on our lakefront. The 1893 Chicago Harbor Lighthouse has an important story to tell about that history,” says Steve. “When I learned of Kurt’s desire to preserve this fading beauty, I was immediately on board.”

Passionate about historic preservation, Steve sensitively adapted a well-preserved 1870 schoolhouse in the quaint town of La Fox, Illinois where he lived for nearly twenty years before moving back to Chicago. While living in La Fox, he successfully worked with local and state officials to form Kane County’s first historic district in La Fox and gained landmark status for his home.

A software product marketing and business development executive, Steve designs professional learning solutions for educators in school districts nationwide. Districts can now better serve students with disabilities through his work with Infinitec, a program of UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago.

Steve will head the Community Outreach Working Group for Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse and conduct historical research.

Michael Kovacs


A native of Indiana and an Accounting major from Indiana University, Michael was

drawn to Chicago for its rich and diverse architecture and its beautiful lakefront. H joined the Chicago accounting firm of ORBA in 1986 and was named partner in 2000. A lifelong sailor, Michael is a member of the Chicago Yacht Club and served as their treasurer from 2021-2022.

Michael lives in a high-rise across from Belmont Harbor, where he docks his Jeaneau 379 sailboat named Cigany (the Hungarian name for gypsy – and yes, Michael is Hungarian). At certain angles, he can see the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse from his 11th-floor condominium.

“The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is a signature piece of history in a world-class city,” says Michael. “As a sailor, I pass this iconic structure often, and think of its significance to Chicago’s maritime past, guiding thousands of commercial ships to land. I’m eager to lend my professional expertise to help preserve this beautiful lighthouse,”.

An ardent building preservationist, Michael and his partner lovingly restored an Italianate-style manor house built in 1848 in Tiskilwa, Illinois, that now serves as a popular bed and breakfast.  

At ORBA, Michael provides accounting, tax and business consulting services to mid-size companies in a variety of industries, including, marina, real estate, manufacturing and financial services.

Michael will chair the Fundraising Working Group for Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse.


By Steve Clements

The World’s Fair

World's fairs were important for showcasing advancements in science, technology, art, and industry from around the world, promoting the exchange of ideas and international relations. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago celebrated the 400 years since Columbus's arrival and featured exhibits from over 50 countries, solidifying the city's reputation for innovation and industry.

We most often hear about the famous illuminated "White City" and new-fangled Ferris wheel, both popular features, which captivated fairgoers. Advancements in lighthouse technology were also on display, and as the 1893 fair closed, an interesting connection between the fair and the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was established.

The United States Lighthouse Board, a federal agency, was responsible for the

construction, operation, and maintenance of aids to navigation on the waterways in and around the United States. Established in 1852, the agency oversaw all the lighthouses in the United States until its merger with the United States Coast Guard in 1939.

The Lighthouse Board was set to be included in the 1893 fair with an exhibit at the Government Building on the fairground. They began planning for grand indoor and outdoor exhibits to show off the enormous improvements their scientists and engineers had developed. Their original request to the federal government for $15,000 supported their plans for a 5,000-square-foot indoor exhibit and 150-square-foot outdoor exhibit. In a report to the Lighthouse Board it was stated:

“On the inside are to be placed all lenses, lamps, chimneys, tools, wicks, etc. On the outside will be a tower, to afterwards be placed at Waackaack Station in New York Bay, Buoys of various kinds, whistles, sirens, etc.”

The Acting Secretary of the Treasury declined that request. A compromise was reached and in the end, $5,687 was allowed, and the size of the exhibit was greatly reduced. Though the Lighthouse Board was unhappy, planning continued.

The scaled down indoor exhibit displayed several Fresnel lenses, a light ship and

models of lighthouses. For the outdoor exhibit, the Lighthouse Board wanted to display a functioning

For the outdoor exhibit, the Lighthouse Board wanted to display a functioning

lighthouse. They had on hand, a lighthouse tower built to be installed as the Waackack Light Station in New York Bay. Since the New York site was not quite ready, the tower was sent to Chicago to be exhibited at the 1893 fair.

The lighthouse exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition

A new type of optical lens had been invented in 1822 by a French physicist named Augustin Jean Fresnel (pronounced freh-NELL), who worked for the French Lighthouse Service. Fresnel’s innovation concentrates the disparate rays of light from a light source into a narrow beam, making it visible for far-greater distances The so-called Fresnel lens revolutionized the way lighthouses projected their light out over the water and made maritime navigation safer for mariners around the world.

An example of a Third Order Fresnel Lens

In 1882, the Lighthouse Board ordered a new third Fresnel lens for the Point Loma Linda Lighthouse in San Diego. Known as H-L-330, the lens was manufactured by Henri Lepaute in France. When the lens was delivered to Point Loma Linda, it was discovered to be too large to be installed. The Lighthouse Board installed a different Lapaute-made Fresnel lens it possessed, at Point Loma Linda. Lepaute entered H-L 330 in the Paris Exhibition of 1889, where it was awarded a gold medal. With that success, he received permission from the Lighthouse Board to again exhibit the lens, this time at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition.

The lens, as a gold medal winner and important new lighthouse technology, became a centerpiece attraction at the fair. In September 1893, The Chicago Tribune declared it “One of the seven wonders of the fair.” Sadly, the lens did not win a medal at the 1893 fair. However, awards were given to the Lighthouse Board for their development of a new type of buoy.

At the close of the fair, most of the temporary buildings were destroyed. Artifacts and exhibits were mostly preserved and went to museums or private collections. Luckily, both the lighthouse and Fresnel lens, which had been exhibited, went on to serve their intended purpose: namely saving lives. The outdoor lighthouse was moved to Keansburg, New Jersey, where it became known as the Waackaack Rear Range Light. And, interestingly, as we’ll learn, the Fresnel lens, known as H-L 330, ended up going into service far from its originally intended destination at Point Loma Linda.

The Chicago Lighthouse

Far more than we will cover here has been written about the history of lighthouses and other aids to navigation in and around what is known as Chicago Harbor. That rich history dates back to 1831, when Congress made its first appropriation for a lighthouse, long before the 1893 fair was even imagined. At that time, $5,000 was appropriated for a lighthouse to mark the mouth of the Chicago River. Numerous iterations of lighthouses and other aids to navigation served the maritime interests of the growing center of trade in the ensuing years.

By the 1870s, according to the Lighthouse Board, Chicago Harbor had grown into “the most important [port] on the lakes, with a greater average number of daily arrivals and departures during the season of navigation than any other in the United States.” Monies were appropriated and work began on a 5,430-foot-long breakwater to protect Chicago Harbor, along with a light and a steam-powered fog signal to mark the new break wall.

The Lighthouse Board was dissatisfied with the allocated funds for the breakwater-light. They stated that the breakwater-light “should correspond in the style of construction and durability of the material with the importance of its function” and “should have some pretensions to architectural effect.” They subsequently requested an extra $15,000, which was granted in 1890.

The 1893 Chicago Harbor Lighthouse

In 1889, contracts were made for the construction of the new lighthouse’s foundation and for an iron tower that included a light and fog signal with two redundant steam boilers. The foundation, which was located 30 feet inside of the breakwater, was completed in 1892. Work on the lighthouse tower and two adjacent buildings housing the steam boilers was completed in September of 1893. A steel bridge connected the lighthouse to the breakwater.

It is worth noting that in 1919 the lighthouse was moved from its original location inside the breakwater, to its current location at the end of the breakwater, to mark the north end of the main entrance to Chicago Harbor. During the move, other modifications were made, including replacing the adjacent steam boiler rooms and raising the base significantly to move them further above the relentless wave action and to increase the distance at which the light is visible.

The H-L-330 Fresnel Lens Finally Goes into Service With the construction of the new lighthouse completed around the same time as the closing of the Columbian Exhibition in October of 1893, the Lighthouse Board decided to keep the medal-winning H-L-330 lens in Chicago to be installed in the new Chicago Harbor

Lighthouse, thereby creating a link to Chicago’s 1893 world’s fair.

The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, with its light shining brightly through the H-L-330 third order Fresnel lens, went into official service on November 9, 1893, where it has guided commercial mariners and yachtsmen for nearly 130 years.


During the early 1960s, the system of lighting in the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was upgraded to a rotating beacon and the H-L 330 lens was dismantled, removed from the tower and deemed government surplus.

Lens H-L 330 was exhibited in the Visitor Center at Cabrillo National Monument in the 1970s and ‘80s, with some of its glasswork missing.

Ross Holland, a former historian with the National Park Service, who was then working at Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, discovered the lens' status and arranged for its transfer to their collection.

So, 98 years after it was ordered and after many years of service in Chicago, the lens arrived in Point Loma in July 1968, as reported by two local newspapers. H-L 330, although missing some glasswork, was exhibited in the Visitor Center, only four miles from its intended original home. Sometime during the 1980s, the lens was placed into storage.

Reference Sources:

Kraig Anderson, “Chicago Harbor Lighthouse,” Lighthouse Friends

Linda Borromeo, “A Lighthouse Fights Bureaucracy at the Chicago World's Fair,” Last Revised March 17, 2021

Joanna Goodrich, ” Before Ships Used GPS, There Was the Fresnel Lens This bright idea revolutionized lighthouses and saved lives,” IEEE Spectrum, May 16, 2-22

Timothy Harrison “Lighthouses At The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition,” Lighthouse Digest”, September, 2008

Terry Pepper, “Seeing the Light, Lighthouses of the Western Great Lakes, Chicago Breakwater Light,” Last Revised December 2, 2007

Karen Scanlon and Kim Fahlen, “A Page from History: The illuminating tale of Point Loma lighthouse’s ‘misfit’ lens,” Point Loma Linda OB Monthly, November 16, 2021

Karen Scanlon and Kim Fahlen, A Resurrection of the Contemplation of H-L 330, CNM VIP Voice, Last revised March 27, 2020

Tomas Tag, “Lighthouse Exhibits at Local and World’s Fairs” United States Lighthouse Society

Donald J. Terras, Lighthouses of the Chicago Harbor. Evanston, Il, Windy City Press, 2006


Block Club Chicago: Lighthouse Off Navy Pier Could Be Restored, Turned into a Museum

A group of architects and lighthouse lovers are working to restore the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse to protect it from the elements and create a resource for visitors.

Read more here: Chicago Harbor Lighthouse off Navy Pier could be restored and turned into a museum.


We need your help. Volunteer and join us in our mission to save the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse and keep its legacy alive for generations to come. 

We are a passionate organization dedicated to preserving, restoring, and celebrating the historic Chicago Harbor Lighthouse for future generations.

Our mission would not be possible without the help of dedicated volunteers who share our passion and commitment to this iconic landmark.

As a volunteer with Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, you will have the

opportunity to gain valuable experience, meet new people, and make a meaningful impact in preserving a historic Chicago landmark that is cherished by our city.

If you are interested in donating your talents and joining our team, please visit our

volunteer page at savethelighthouse.org/volunteer to learn more.

Currently, we are seeking talented and experienced part-time volunteers to assist us in the areas of fundraising (especially grant writing), construction,

and community outreach to help us build and maintain

our connections to local and national organizations.

Volunteer Your Talents


...boats entering and leaving Chicago Harbor

Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was completed in 1893, and for perspective, Municipal Pier opened in 1916.

In 1927, the Municipal Pier was renamed Navy Pier to honor those who had served in World War I.

The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is east of Navy Pier and the mouth of the Chicago River. 

The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was automated in 1979, meaning it no longer requires a human keeper to operate the light. However, the lighthouse is still an important landmark and serves as a navigational aid for boats entering and leaving Chicago Harbor.

It is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States!

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