Michigan Island Lights (2)
By Dave Wobser

This article originally appeared 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 www.nps.gov/apis

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.

MICHIGAN ISLAND First Light (1857)
Michigan Island has the distinction of having the first and last lighthouses constructed in the Apostle Islands. Both are still standing. This islandís lighthouses marked the eastern edge of the island chain for vessels heading to Ashland to load iron ore from the Gogebic Range.

The first light is a round 64-foot, white, stuccoed stone tower, attached to a matching 2-story stone dwelling, sitting atop a bluff on the east side of the island. The tower is topped by a black lantern room. It was put into operation in 1857, only two years after the Soo Lock opened.

Interestingly, there was no authorization for the light and it only operated for one shipping season. It is thought that the light was to have been constructed on Long Island, but the mistake was not discovered until completion of the Michigan Island light.

The light was extinguished in 1858 when the new LaPointe Light went into operation on nearby Long Island. The lantern room was removed and put into service at Windmill Point to mark the entrance to the Detroit River from Lake St. Clair.

The light was re-activated in 1869, following petitions to the Lighthouse Board. A new lantern room was constructed, with helical barred windows, and a 3-1/2 Order Fresnel lens was installed. The lens is now on display in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Headquarters and Visitor Center in Bayfield.

MICHIGAN ISLAND Second Light (1929)
The second Michigan Island light is a 112-foot steel skeletal tower that was originally constructed in 1880 near Philadelphia. It was disassembled in 1916 and erected on this location in 1929. The new tower is located about 100 feet from the original stone dwelling and tower.

The structure is similar in design to towers at Rawley Point on Lake Michigan and Whitefish Point at the east end of Lake Superior. The Michigan Island tower differs in that a small brick building is located at the base of the center cylindrical tube and inside the six legs that support the structure. This building apparently served as a workroom for the early keepers.

The tower is painted white, and contrasts with the black lantern room with helical bar windows. A 2-story brick keeper's dwelling that was constructed about the same time as the new tower, survives, along with the first tower and dwelling, and several out buildings.

Access to the most of the Apostle Islands light stations is via the Apostle Islands Cruise Service www.apostleisland.com water taxi or private boat during the summer months. During the Annual Apostle Island Lighthouse Celebration www.lighthousecelebration.com 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 Lindholm

Location: Michigan Island near Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Date Built: 1857 and 1929
Active: Yes

Open to


Access is by private boat or via the Apostle Island Cruise Service from Bayfield, Wisconsin.

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