Split Rock Lighthouse

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Introduction

Completed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1910, today it is one of America's best-preserved lighthouses. A visit to the site offers a glimpse of life at an early 20th-century lighthouse, in a remote and spectacular setting. Tour the lighthouse, fog-signal building and the restored keeper's dwelling. The Visitor Center features an award-winning film, exhibits and a museum store.

Background

Shipwrecks from a mighty 1905 November gale prompted this rugged landmark’s construction. In early 1907, the U. S. Congress appropriated $75,000 for "a lighthouse and fog signal in the vicinity of Split Rock, Minnesota." Completed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1910, Split Rock Light Station soon became one of Minnesota’s best-known landmarks.

In the early years of the 20th century, iron ore shipments on Lake Superior doubled and redoubled. United States Steel’s bulk ore carriers became "the greatest exclusive freight-carrying fleet sailing under one ownership in the world," so the demand for a new lighthouse on the lake’s inhospitable North Shore was hardly surprising. Many agreed that the North Shore, and Lake Superior in general was, as American novelist James Oliver Curwood called it, "the most dangerous piece of water in the world."

The U. S. Lighthouse Service operated the site until 1939, when the U.S. Coast Guard took command. By that time, Split Rock's picturesque setting near U.S. Highway 61, built in 1924, had made it "the most visited lighthouse in the United States." The station closed in 1969, when modern navigational equipment made it obsolete. The State of Minnesota obtained the historic and scenic landmark in 1971. The Minnesota Historical Society now administers the 25-acre historic site restored to its early 1920s appearance – a time when the isolated light station was accessible only by water.

Light Keeper Bios

Split Rock Lighthouse was staffed by resident keepers from 1910 through 1969, when the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the station. In the early years of the job, the keeper and the two assistants rotated four-hour watches throughout the night. During the day, they kept a keen eye on the weather and operated the fog signal as needed.

Early Years

1910-1928: Orren "Pete" Young serves as head keeper. A former sailor, Young began his lighthouse career in 1901 serving along Lake Superior’s Michigan coast. In 1910 Young moved to the new Split Rock Lighthouse where he operated the light signal from April to December. His family, a wife and four children would come to live at the lighthouse in the summer months.
1928-1944: Franklin J. Covell serves as head keeper. Covell first arrived at Split Rock in 1913 as second assistant keeper. After three years, he moved on to work at other lighthouses in Superior, WI and Two Harbors, returning to Split Rock to stay in 1924. Like keeper Young, Covell's family visited during the summer until 1931 when they moved to the lighthouse for year-round living.
1944-1946: James Gagnon serves as head keeper.
1946-1947: Morse Rhea serves as head keeper.
1947-1961: Robert E. Bennetts serves as the last civilian keeper.
1969: Lighthouse is decommissioned.

Modern Day Lighthouse

1970-1975: The State of Minnesota acquired the lighthouse in 1970. It became part of Split Rock State Park one year later.  
1975: Lighthouse is transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society.
1976-1982: Tom Ellig becomes first historic site manager. Under Ellig, the story of the light station, its keepers and their role in Great Lakes shipping was told. Following this interpretive focus, Ellig oversaw the historic renovation of the site – grounds, fog signal building and keepers house – to its 1920s appearance. Ellig now serves as historic properties manager for all of the Society's sites.
1982-Today: Lee Radzak becomes historic site manager. Radzak joined the Society in 1976 as an archaeologist working on state park master plans and on the Minnesota Statewide Archaeological Survey.  In 1982 he became the historic site manager at Split Rock Lighthouse, developing an expanded interpretive program and overseeing the construction of the Split Rock Lighthouse History Center in 1986 and the most recent restorations to the lighthouse and fog signal buildings, in 2008 and 2009.

Images

Split Rock Lighthouse Images

Split Rock Lighthouse Images

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

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Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

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Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

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Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

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Split Rock Lighthouse, 1908

Split Rock Lighthouse, 1908

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Split Rock Lighthouse, 1925

Split Rock Lighthouse, 1925

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Split Rock Lighthouse, Franklin J. Covell with lens, ca. 1920

Split Rock Lighthouse, Franklin J. Covell with lens, ca. 1920

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Split Rock Lighthouse, postcard, 1934

Split Rock Lighthouse, postcard, 1934

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Split Rock Lighthouse, postcard, 1945

Split Rock Lighthouse, postcard, 1945

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Logos

Split Rock Lighthouse Logos

Split Rock Lighthouse Logos

Horizontal 2 Color Signature Logo

Horizontal 2 Color Signature Logo

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Horizontal Black Signature Logo

Horizontal 2 Color Signature Logo

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Vertical 2 Color Signature Logo

Vertical 2 Color Signature Logo

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Vertical Black Signature Logo

Vertical Black Signature Logo

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