Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most iconic buildings on Lake Superior’s North Shore. Now decommissioned, the lighthouse has been beautifully preserved and is a popular destination for visitors and locals alike. Read on to learn more about the history of the lighthouse.
Why A Lighthouse at Split Rock?
Starting on November 27, 1905, a massive storm, known as the Mataafa Storm, hit the Great Lakes region. The storm caused a total of 29 shipwrecks on Lake Superior during a two-day period. One of those ships, the Madeira, sank near the area known as Split Rock. Recognizing a need for a guiding light in that area after the catastrophic storm, the United States Lighthouse Service commissioned the construction of the lighthouse.
Constructing the Lighthouse
In 1910, the construction of the Split Rock Lighthouse was completed. The lighthouse building itself was just one of 10 buildings originally constructed on the grounds to help service the light. There was a fog signal building, 3 keeper’s homes, an oil house, and storage barns. The 3 keeper’s homes provided housing for the head lighthouse keeper and two assistants, plus their families. Most of these buildings still stand today.
The Lighthouse is perched atop a 133-foot cliff and helped guide ships past the rugged Lake Superior Shoreline from 1910 until it was decommissioned in 1969. During it’s time in operation the lighthouse used a beam that would flash each night in 10-second intervals and could be seen up to 20 miles away. Now, it can no longer be used as a navigational tool, but every year on November 10th, Split Rock Lighthouse once again sends out its beam in honor of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Opening Up to the Public
After being decommissioned, the lighthouse was handed over to the Minnesota Historical Society and put on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, over 100,000 visitors a year from all over the world come to learn about the history and walk through the original buildings. Visitors can join a tour or just walk the grounds on their own. The lighthouse building, fog signal building, and one of the keeper’s homes have been restored to how they would have appeared in the 1920s, complete with costumed interpreters. Access to the buildings is open from May-October.
Visit the History Center
There is also a History Center with a museum, theater, and gift shop on site. There are many stories surrounding the lighthouse and the keepers. One of my personal favorites is when the kids of the keepers found a bear cub in the woods and decided to bring it home. For a day or two, they had a pet bear. However, they were wisely not permitted to keep it. A cute story, but I do not recommend approaching baby bears in the woods!
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
The lighthouse is also located adjacent to the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, which offers many activities for visitors. The two parts of the park are operated separately. The lighthouse is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society while the park is managed by the Minnesota DNR. There is an extra fee to access the lighthouse separate from the state park fees.