The highest lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Located on the north shore of Lake Superior, 20 miles north of Two Harbors, Minnesota, in Split Rock State Park, off US-61.
The Lighthouse Board decided to build a lighthouse here for two reasons. First, compass readings were often unreliable because of the magnetic interference caused by large iron ore deposits nearby and being carried by vessels in the area. The second was the extreme depth of the lake near the shore which made it impossible for mariners to take soundings a safe distance from shore.
Split Rock lighthouse may owe its existence as much to the Storms of 1905. Three violent storms, late in the shipping season, took the lives of 116 sailors. The storm of November 28 damaged nearly 30 ships on Lake Superior. The under-powered steel freighters were driven toward the rock bound coast by northeast winds in excess of 60 miles per hour that blew continuously for ore than half a day. Pittsburgh Steamship Company had 10 vessels lost or damaged. The tow barge MADIERA broke in two and sank less than a northeast of the future lighthouse site, the steamer LAYFAYETTE was demolished on the rock 12 miles to the southwest, and the EDENBORN beached without serious damage at the mouth of the Split Rock River, although one of the crew lost his life.
The lighthouse was virtually completed in the summer of 1909 at a cost of $72,541, but was not lighted until August 10, 1910. Men and more than 300 tons of materials were hoisted up the face of the 124 foot high cliff to build the station. The octagonal brick light tower stands 54 feet overall and creates a focal plane 168 feet above Lake Superior. It was equipped with an incandescent oil vapor lamp rated at 370,000 candlepower, mounted inside a Third Order BI-valve lens that was manufactured by Barbier, Bernard and Turenne Company of Paris. The lens, made of 242 prisms, weighs 5,000 pounds and floats in 250 pounds of mercury. The official range was 22 miles, but the light has been seen as far away as Grand Marais, more than 60 miles distant. In 1939, the station was electrified and for the next 30 years a 1,000 watt bulb supplied the light source.
The station includes a fog signal building, two barns, an oil storage building, and three 2-story brick dwellings to accommodate keeper's families. Also remaining are the tramway winch house and remnants of the tramway that ran from the shore to the station, along with the pump house that supplied water to the station. The tramway was built in 1916 to haul supplies from the dock up to the station, and replaced the derrick at the top of the cliff. In 1929 the first modern road was built into the light station from the newly completed North Shore Highway. The tramway was dismantled in 1934 when the station received a truck to haul supplies.
The light was decommissioned in 1969 and acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1975. MHS has restored the buildings to their pre-1924 appearance and operates the complex as a historical site. A visitor's center is located on the grounds and guided tours are available.
Photographs by Dave Wobser
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