Sand Island Lighthouse
By Dave Wobser

This is part or 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 1400s.

Tourism and trips to summer homes of the wealthy had been established by steamers in the early 1800s, and commercial fishing had begun in the 1830s. 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.

Sand Island light marks the western end of the Apostle Islands. The light provided a guide for down-bound vessels into the western channel along the Bayfield Peninsula to the towns of Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland.

The light tower rising from the northwest corner and the 1-1/2 story dwelling are both built of brownstone that may have been quarried from a ledge in front of the lighthouse. The Norman Gothic style dwelling measures 32 feet by 28 feet, plus a 28 x 12 one-story summer kitchen attached to the back. The tower is square at the base and changes to an octagon above the first floor.

The spiral iron tower stairs run from the basement to the lantern room, and provides access between the first and second floors. The full basement is divided in to a root cellar, wood storage and a cistern to collect rain water. Some period furniture is in the dwelling, including an original USLHS traveling library.

A Fourth Order polygonal Fresnel lens with 10 sides was placed in the tower, and produced a light 56 feet above Lake Superior. The original lens has been replaced by a modern aero beacon. From the lantern room, on a clear day you can see the Minnesota shore, some 26 miles distant.

A boathouse and breakwater were built 1500 feet south of the lighthouse in a small cove off Lighthouse Bay. These were destroyed in during a storm in 1905 and were not replaced. A few pilings are still visible.

Only two keepers served at Sand Island. Charles Lederle was part of the construction crew that built the lighthouse and served as keeper from 1881 to 1892. He was succeeded by Emmanuel Luick who served until he light was assigned to Raspberry Island in 1920. In 1933 the light was fully automated. Keepers had the company of as many as 100 people who lived in the small village of Shaw, which was located on the eastern bay of the island. The town was abandoned in 1944, but remnants of the town remain not far from the National Park Service dock.

Beginning in 1925, the Sand Island lighthouse dwelling was leased to private individuals for use as a summer home. This continued until the island was purchased as part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in 1970. A National Park Service dock is located on the east side of the island.

A two-mile path and boardwalk through the second-growth forest leads to the lighthouse. Visitors are advised to wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts and decent hiking shoes. The walk from the dock to the light station can be made unpleasant by insects and mud, but it is worth the trip.

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 Apostle Islands to greet visitors during the summer months.

Click on image to enlarge

Photograph by Dave Wobser

Location: Sand Island is one of the Apostle Islands located off Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Date Built: 1881
Active: Yes

Open to


Access is via private boat or Apostle Island Cruise Service

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