This article originally appeared in Great Laker magazine. www.greatlaker.com
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 www.nps.gov/apis
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.
LA POINTE LIGHT (1858) 1896
The first light, built in 1858, was a wooden platform that displayed the light through a Fourth Order lens. An attached clapboard dwelling was later constructed but only the foundation remains. In 1864, the light tower was placed on stone piers and cast iron columns. A fog signal building was added in 1890.
The present white steel tubular structure, supported by four skeletal legs, was erected in 1896, at the same time as the present Chequamegon Point Light was being erected on the west end of the island. The new LaPointe light was built some 2,000 feet east of the original light, adjacent to the 1890 fog signal building. The structure is topped by a watch room and octagonal lantern. A red roof and ventilator ball give color to the all white tower. The Fourth Order lens was moved from the 1858 structure to the new tower.
Two structures are adjacent to the tower. One is a rectangular frame building, sided with corrugated iron, that was erected in 1890 to house a fog signal. The other building is a two-story rectangular three-family dwelling that was part of a long abandoned US Coast Guard station. The light was automated in 1964, and is presently shown by a modern airport-type beacon.
Trees surrounding the station hide all but the top of the tower from off-shore. A National Park Service dock is located nearby and visitors are welcome.
ACCESS TO APOSTLE ISLAND LIGHTHOUSES
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