September 14th (continued from previous blog post)
In the early 20th century, American novelist James Oliver Curwood deemed Lake Superior – “the most dangerous piece of water in the world.” Lake Superior is a dangerous beauty – calm and glorious or savage as a hurricane.
At the turn of the century Minnesota was in an iron boom. Ships would freight the ore across Lake Superior – but the treacherous waters and deceptive inland sea made for difficult passage.
To provide safe passage for freighter ships, Congress appropriated $75,000 to build a lighthouse and fog signal at the dangerous ‘castle rocks’ of Split Rock on Minnesota’s north shore, north of Two Harbors.
Of the over 10,000 shipwrecks in The Great Lakes – Lake Superior is the final grave for 350 wrecks. Many of the wreckage sites remain undiscovered to this day. There are guide tours from Duluth and the region that take ‘wreckers’ on cruises to see wreckage and learn about the history.
Split Rock was constructed in 1910 and it’s unique design and stunning setting quickly led to it being dubbed ‘one of the most visited lighthouses in America’ by the US Coast Guard. It has been said ‘Split Rock repels ships but attracts people’.
Until 1924, when Highway 61 was built, Split Rock was only accessible by boat.
Split Rock stands fifty-four feet high as a beacon and guardian on a 130 foot lava basalt cliff over the tumultuous waters of Lake Superior.
The US Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse for maritime traffic, but the beacon is still tuned on occasionally, including the annual Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting in November. Every 10th of November the light at Split Rock blazes across Superior to commemorate the sinking of the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald and all the other shipwrecks in The Great Lakes.
Exploring Split Rock…
Split Rock Lighthouse is run by the Minnesota Historical Society and requires a small, but worthwhile admission to tour the lighthouse and adjacent grounds.
The visitor center gives you background on the history of how Split Rock was constructed and the legacy of the light. Watch a thirteen minute video before exploring the lighthouse (you can hike to the talk) and learn about the people who lived and served as guardians of the ‘light.’
You can go at your own pace with a self-guided tour or sign up for one of the Keeper Tours. For more information click here.
There are several viewing areas to get the perfect picture of Split Rock. I walked down to the boathouse and captured iconic shots from the shoreline. There are several other trails for primetime viewing.
It is important to note that there is a Split Rock State Park right by the Lighthouse entrance. Both are worth exploring, but each have a separate fee. The lighthouse is run by the MNHS and the park is state operated.
You can hike a 6 mile trail from Split Rock to Gooseberry…although I preferred to drive as I wanted to do separate hikes at Gooseberry.
Two Harbors Lighthouse:
Roughly twenty miles south of Split Rock, you’ll be treated to the Two Harbors Light, which is located in the heart of the Two Harbors waterfront.
Completed in 1892, The Two Harbors Light is the oldest operating lighthouse in the state of Minnesota. It overlooks Lake Superior’s Agate Bay and was important during the iron boom in the early 20th century.
Standing at 49.6 feet, the red brick tower and attached head keeper’s quarters continue to welcome visitors. The walls of the tower were built to be three bricks thick for the safety of the keeper’s family. The light has a total of six structures: a lighthouse tower with quarters, an assistant keeper’s house, a fog signal building, an oil house, skiff house and garage. It was originally equipped with a fourth order Fresnel lens.
*fun fact – Two Harbors Light has a ‘twin’ in the Round Island Light in Michigan.
It is decommissioned, but still open for tours. You can still see the original Fresnel lens on display in the lighthouse museum.
And even better – you can enjoy the beacon with an overnight stay at the Keeper’s Quarters bed and breakfast. Reserve your room here.
Next up we’ll keep exploring Minnesota’s North Shore