Devils Island Light
By Dave Wobser

This is part of an article that originally appeared in Great Laker magazine.

The Apostle Islands are located in Lake Superior off the north end of the Bayfield Peninsula, which juts out in a northeasterly direction from the north shore of Wisconsin between Duluth-Superior and Ashland, Wisconsin. The archipelago consists of twenty-two individual islands, 21 of which are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a branch of the US National Park Service which was created by Congress in 1970. The National Lakeshore also includes some 2500 acres along the shore of the peninsula. Only Madeline Island is not under federal care and has a number of summer homes located on the island.

All six Apostle Island lighthouses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service has made a commitment to stabilize and preserve these stations. During the summer season, NPS rangers or volunteers carry on the lighthouse keeping tradition and are on hand to welcome visitors, conduct tours and help with maintenance while protecting the structures from vandalism.

In addition to lighthouses, the Apostle Island National Lakeshore offers many other recreational opportunities. These include camping on eight of the islands, kayaking, hiking, picnicking and exploring abandoned quarries and farms on the islands.

The Apostle's originally received their name because early French explorers mapped only twelve islands. The French had established a major fur trading post in the islands from about 1660 to 1840. Much of their trading was with the Chippewa (Ojibway) Indians who had lived in the area since the 1400ís.

Tourism and trips to summer homes of the wealthy had been established by steamers in the early 1800ís, and commercial fishing had begun in the 1830ís. All of these ventures generated increased vessel traffic in the area.

The Apostle Islands represented a series of navigation hazards to Great Lakes shipping following the opening of the State Lock at Sault Ste. Marie on May 31, 1855. With the opening of the Soo, vessels could travel between four of the five Great Lakes, and the lumber, quarrying and ore industries began to boom. The increased vessel traffic needed guidance around the islands, particularly when traveling the length of Lake Superior.

About the same time, the towns of Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland were developing into shipping ports. The first sawmill began operation in Bayfield in 1856. Logging on the islands continued for nearly a hundred years. Quarrying of brownstone started in 1869 on Basswood Island. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 created a greater demand for lumber and brownstone, and the island economy boomed. The increased economy brought more vessels to the area, and with them the need for more aids to navigation. A total of six light stations were established on the Apostle Islands between 1857 and 1891. They are Michigan Island (1857), La Pointe (1858), Raspberry Island (1863), Chequamegon Point (1868) Outer Island (1874), Sand Island (1881) and Devils Island (1891).

The best place to start your tour of the Apostle Islands is at the National Lakeshore headquarters located in the former Bayfield County courthouse in Bayfield. The headquarters is located on Washington Street, between North 4th and North 5th Streets, one block north of Wisconsin Route 13. The staff here is ready to answer all your questions and provide an armful of helpful brochures about the islands.

When you visit the headquarters building, notice the buildings construction of a reddish-brown sandstone known as 'brownstone'. For more than 25 years, beginning in 1868, the quarrying of brownstone was a major industry employing as many as 1200 men on several of the islands and the surrounding mainland. Many buildings in the area and major cities of the US were constructed of brownstone before the introduction of steel-framed buildings in 1893 turned the heads of contemporary architects.

The last in the string of lighthouses around the perimeter of the Apostle Islands was first shown on Devils Island, the most northern of the Apostles, in 1891. The light marks the last turn for west bound vessels headed to the twin ports of Duluth-Superior.

A 2-story, red brick, Queen Anne style keeper's dwelling and a building for the fog signal were first completed. However, the light was placed on a temporary 70-foot wooden tower due to insufficient funds being provided for a permanent tower. The tower held a Fourth Order Fresnel lens. The light was first shown on September 30, 1891.

A second 2-story, brick and shingle house similar to the keeper's dwelling was built for the assistant keepers in 1897, and a permanent 80-foot steel cylinder tower was completed in 1898. The lantern, with helical barred windows, sat empty for three more years before a Third Order lens from H. LePaute of Paris was received and installed. The light produced a non-flashing red light, 87 feet above lake level.

The steam fog signal was replaced in 1925 with a compressed air diaphone and a radio fog beacon. In the early 1930's the station became the first in the area to get a radio communications station.

The station was not automated until July 27, 1978. The automation marked the end of over a century of light keepers tending lights in the Apostle Islands. In 1989, a new solar-powered light was installed in the tower, and the Fresnel lens was removed. A lawsuit by area residents caused the lens to be returned to the tower, after it had been restored. The red solar-powered light was placed on the lantern room railing.

The station is presently manned by volunteers through the National Park Service, and the USCG maintains the active aid to navigation. Visitors are welcome from June through August.

The light tower has an active weather station mounted on the lantern room roof, and information can be accessed on the Internet at:$station=disw3

Access to the most of the Apostle Islands light stations is via the Apostle Islands Cruise Service
 water taxi or private boat during the summer months. During the Annual Apostle Island Lighthouse Celebration  ferry tour service is provided to all the lighthouses. Volunteer park rangers are on the many of the islands to greet visitors during the summer months.

Click on image to enlarge

Photograph by Jim Phillips

Location: Part of the Apostle Island group located off Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Date Built: 1891
Active: Yes

Open to


Access to the most of the Apostle Islands light stations is via the Apostle Islands Cruise Service  water taxi or private boat.

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