Lock tender houses coming back to life on Fox River

A lock tender house on the Fox River in Little Chute is seen, April 25, 2014. (WLUK/Chad Doran)
A lock tender house on the Fox River in Little Chute is seen, April 25, 2014. (WLUK/Chad Doran)

LITTLE CHUTE - Lock tenders helped boats night and day on the Fox River until the 1960's.

So what do you do with the dozen or so locktender homes that are unused, but still standing?

One group is unlocking the mystery by renovating some of them for a unique opportunity.

"Turning it back to 1930 will bring an asset that isn't here and let people step back in time," said Candice Mortara of the Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway.

Mortara and other from the group are restoring the Little Chute lock tender house. The home built in 1909 served an important purpose until the 1960's.

"They needed lock masters to stay in these because the locks were open 24 hours a day."

Today the house is empty. It's literally falling apart inside. But Saturday that will begin to change. Volunteers will gut the inside of the house to remodel it into a rental cottage for kayakers and boaters.

"I'm a kayaker and I like these waters and exploring these waters," said Jim Yagow of Freedom.

Yagow also donated money to help kick off the fundraising for the project. One he says is a true community effort.

"We're all in this together, we all love and enjoy our river and what it brings to our community."

And the Little Chute house is just one of three lock tender houses the group is trying to restore along this section of the Fox River.

The other two are the Cedars house off Main Street in Little Chute and one along the river in Heesakker Park.

"These houses are a great asset and they have just been sitting dormant, waiting for reuse for a long time," said Mortara.

And volunteers are ready to see them come back to life. Nancy Cohen and other engineers from URS Corporation in Green Bay will help during their annual day of service.

"It's wonderful, I love history, I think it is a great part of our country and being able to help rebuild it is a great opportunity," Cohen said.

A history that will once again come alive along the Fox River.

Efforts have also been made to preserve some of the other homes along the river.

In this case, once the Little Chute house opens next April, the group will also offer community members the chance to be a volunteer lock tender for a day.

Mortara says the group has raised about $2,800 toward the project so far. Anyone interested in donating time or money for the project can visit the group's website at