Life at the Lighthouse
Looking at how the keepers and their families lived at Split Rock Lighthouse provides a glimpse into the history of the station. Events that overtook and changed the operation of the station and changed how things were done also changed the lives of the keepers and their families.
When the first keepers arrived at Split Rock in the summer of 1910, it was a remote and barren place, to say the least. The few trees that grew on the cliff top were cut down during the construction, so the wind howled constantly.
Because the station was isolated by the lake with no land access, supplies and visitors could come only by boat. Their visits proved to be infrequent. Getting to the lighthouse was so difficult in those early years that many families of the keepers would come only for short visits, leaving for their winter homes when school started. They were joined by the keepers when the station was decommissioned for the annual winter shutdown in December.
Then in 1924, Lake Superior International Highway was built along the North Shore, eventually connecting all of the shoreline from Duluth to Canada.Now it was easy for supplies, wives and children, and even visitors to get to the lighthouse.
By the 1930s, the keepers were living with their families at the station through the winter layoff, and children were boarding buses for school in Beaver Bay and Two Harbors. Keepers found it necessary to ask the Lighthouse Service headquarters for guidance on how to work amid the influx of visitors, and it was necessary to erect safety fences along the cliff's edge.
The keepers' jobs changed as well. Kerosene lamps and gasoline-powered fog horns gave way to electric lights and compressors, but the basic job was still the same: round-the-clock manning of the navigational equipment. Maintenance and upkeep still occupied most of the keepers' days, and they could look forward to spending only a supper and maybe a quiet evening with their families before the night watches started.