Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse (MN)

Superior…it’s an apt name for the largest body of freshwater in the world. The Ojibway name for it, 'gitche-gami'…meaning great sea, is equally appropriate. Rarely calm…in its nicest form this, the greatest of Great Lakes, is a vast expanse of cold, dark blue water. At its nastiest…it’s deadly. The worst season on Lake Superior is November. Cold fronts sweeping across the lake are intensified by the vast body of water, turning fall winds into deadly gales capable of creating waves to break the greatest of ships. So it was on November 28, 1905. A ferocious, but not at all unusual, gale struck western Lake Superior. By the next day, between Duluth and Grand Marais, 29 ships lay crushed along its shore or entombed in its icy depths. As a result of this disaster, forever known as the “Mataafa Storm” (in reference to one of the sunken vessels), it was demanded that a lighthouse be built to aid the unlit portion of Minnesota’s North Shore between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. Congress quickly appropriated $75,000 ($2,000,000+ today) for the creation of a new light station along the coast. The site chosen was an imposing one to say the least, atop a sheer 130-foot cliff at the north end of Little Two Harbors Bay. With no existing anchorage at the site, a steam hoist was constructed to haul construction supplies to the top of the cliff. The short summer season resulted in a winter delay to construction but, on July 31st of the following year, Split Rock Lighthouse first displayed its shining signal across the waters of Lake Superior.

Along with the lighthouse there was built an oil house, three storage barns, and three keeper’s dwellings…all of a unique and distinguishing yellow brick. The lighthouse tower wasn’t incredibly high, at a humble 54-feet, but it didn’t need to be since the cliffs it stood atop allowed it a focal plane 168-feet above the lake. Fitted with a Third Order Fresnel Lens, powered by oil vapor, Split Rock’s beam was visible to passing vessels up to 22-miles away. The position of Light Keeper at Split Rock was initially a seasonal one. When the shipping season ended in November, the keepers would shut down the station and move to less remote lodging until the start of the next season in April. In 1924, however, Highway 61 reached the light and keepers were allowed to man it year-round. The next major upgrade to the station was the arrival of electricity in 1940. The original oil-vapor wick was replaced by a massive 1000-watt electric bulb. Tourism to the lighthouse increased every year, as it had since it was first lit, which meant that the keepers on duty were at times equal parts light attendant and equal parts tour guide. In some ways this was good for the future of Split Rock.

When the station was decommissioned in 1969 it only sat vacant for two years before the property was transferred to the State of Minnesota for preservation. Over the following years the light (and most of its neighboring structures) were restored to their 1920’s appearance and opened to the public. Today, the 2,200-acre Split Rock Lighthouse State Park welcomes over 150,000 visitors a year. The lighthouse is, of course, the main attraction but there is camping picnicking and dozens of miles of trail to enjoy as well. In this album we mainly focus on the Split Rock Lighthouse site, as we had limited time to explore. I’ve also tried to include information on each structure (with the help of on-site interpretive signage), to help explain things in greater detail for those that might be interested. Oh…and there’s a few bonus shots of Two Harbors Lighthouse, twenty-miles south of Split Rock, because…why not? Split Rock is an icon of the Great Lakes for good reason. If you’re not aware of that I’m sure that after you browse this album you’ll understand. With that I’m thrilled to finally be able to share with you one of my absolute favorite lighthouses. Split Rock Lighthouse is something special…which you’re about to see. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!

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