Learn about lighthouses and Evanston history on this outing for families with children 8 and older.
Located on Sheridan Road in north Evanston, there is free parking in the lot next door. From the parking lot, walk south past the mansion, which houses the Evanston Arts Center, and enter the lighthouse through the keepers’ quarters, which face the street. Inside is a small museum that showcases the history of the Grosse Point lighthouse and the workings of lighthouses in general. You can see a scale model of the lighthouse and grounds as it looked in the early days of its operation and learn about how the lighthouse and fog houses worked. To go along with the displays, a video depicts the wreck of the Lady Elgin, the shipwreck that was the impetus for the lighthouse’s construction.
But it was climbing the lighthouse that held the most interest for my children. The lighthouse is connected to the keepers’ quarters by a long hallway. Passing the iron doors that protect the lighthouse, we came to the 115 steps up the circular iron staircase to the top. Fortunately, there are small landings with windows to look out as you ascend. At the very top, you are at the level of the lens and enter a small, glass, enclosed area where you have an unimpeded view of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area. A small walkway circles the giant lens with a metal railing on the window side.
My children enjoyed the view and were quite disappointed they were not allowed on the outside walkway. Not being fond of heights, I was ready to head back down. Descending feels a little treacherous for the first few steps, but everyone in my group managed fine. Afterwards there was much discussion of what it would have been like to be a lighthouse keeper, and the kids were pointing out all the places they saw from the top.
The grounds, which are free and open year-round, include a wild flower garden and a dune restoration project. Also nearby is a park with picnic tables and Evanston’s lighthouse beach. The lighthouse is open June through September on weekends at 2, 3, and 4 p.m. Special tours can be arranged through October. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children (ages 8-12). No one under 8 is allowed in the lighthouse, which, having climbed the stairs, makes perfect sense.