Outer Island Light
By Dave Wobser

This is part of an article that 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.

As traffic increased between the Soo and Duluth-Superior in the later part of the 1800's, a light was built on Outer Island which is the most northeastern of the Apostles. Put in operation in October, 1874 the light was a welcome aid to the growing vessel traffic carrying ore, lumber and grain between Duluth-Superior and the lower lakes.

The 2-1/2 story dwelling and tower were made of brick, and the tower was whitewashed. The structure was built in the "Poe" style, named for General Orlando M. Poe of the Corps of Engineers. The bracketed Italianate style is similar to light towers at Seul Choix (1895) and Wind Point (1880) on Lake Michigan, and the new (1871) Presque Isle light on Lake Huron, among others.

The tower was built with a circular iron stairway leading to a watch room and outside walkway below the lantern. The Third Order lens had six bulls eye panels which produced a flashing white light 130 feet above Lake Superior and 86 feet above ground. The lens was turned by a clockwork mechanism powered by weights.

The fog signal was a locomotive whistle with coal fired boiler to produce steam. It was moved from the base of the cliff to the top of the bank in 1875, due to erosion from the forces of lake Superior's Northeast gales. A duplicate fog signal was added in a separate building in 1878. Both fog signals were consolidated into a single building, and their boilers replaced in 1900.

A tramway that was built in 1874 to haul goods from the boat landing was washed away in the first year of the station's operation. It was replaced in 1884. In 1913 an incandescent oil vapor light was installed, then in 1925, the steam fog whistle was converted to an air diaphone run by air compressors and diesel engines.

Outer Island was electrified in the late 1930's so it could operate automatically in the winter. The station was fully automated in 1961, and the Fresnel lens was removed. The present plastic lens is powered by solar panels. The Fresnel lens is alleged to have been taken to a Duluth landfill in a dump truck when the light was decommissioned.


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: Locate on Outer Island, the northern-most of the Apostle Islands.
Date Built: 1874
Active: Yes

Open to


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

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