New Exhibit at Split Rock Lighthouse Will Examine Relationships with Lake Superior

New artifacts and never-before-told stories to be featured at beloved landmark

For immediate release


TWO HARBORS, Minn. (May 8, 2023) – Split Rock Lighthouse will soon launch its most extensive programmatic update in a generation. A new exhibit will tell stories about the site’s history, with a focus on those who make a living from Lake Superior’s resources and those who call it home.

At the heart of the exhibit will be a full scale replica of the Third Order Fresnel Lens that sits atop the lighthouse. The lens includes 252 prisms and weighs 650 pounds. Sitting in the center of the room increases accessibility, allowing guests to get an unprecedented detailed view of the lens.

Other notable artifacts include the wheel from the Madeira, which sank in 1905 a short distance from where the lighthouse now stands. The wheel sat at the bottom of Lake Superior for decades. The exhibit in the Radzak Family Gallery will also include an increased focus on the lighthouse’s keepers and their families. One of the featured artifacts will be the hat of Orren Young, Split Rock’s first keeper.

The land on which the lighthouse stands has been home to people for more than 12,000 years. The exhibit will include stories and traditions from the perspectives of those who have lived there, including the Dakota, Ojibwe, French, and English.

“One of the goals of this exhibit is to tell the stories of the lake and the lighthouse through first-person accounts. Guests can see and hear and get a better connection to the history,” said Site Manager Hayes Scriven.

“From the Dakota people who named the land Mni Sota Makoce (Land Where the Waters Reflect the Clouds), to the thousands of visitors to the North Shore who are inspired by the beauty of the water, we have a long relationship with Lake Superior,” said Minnesota Historical Society Director and CEO Kent Whitworth. “The multiple voices that make up this exhibit will give visitors unique perspectives on thousands of years of history at the site.”

Media are invited to preview the exhibit on May 15 and 16. MNHS is happy to provide images for preview coverage, but this will be the first opportunity for interviews and video of the new exhibit. Please email Nick Jungheim to reserve your spot.

Scriven said, “Whether guests are long-time fans of the lighthouse or first-time visitors, everyone will have the opportunity to engage with this exhibit and learn and see something new.”

Split Rock Lighthouse is excited to welcome the public to to North Shore Community Night on May 26, which will be the first chance to explore the new exhibit. North Shore Community Night runs from 6 pm–10 pm. In addition to exploring the new exhibit, festivities will include live music by Minnesota-based musicians Adam Moe and Nathan Frazer. Food trucks will also be at the event, along with beverages and yard games. At 9 pm, the night will conclude with a beacon lighting at the lighthouse. Guests are encouraged to bring a headlamp and dress for the weather. Visitors may need to park at the state park, which may require a sticker.

Support for the exhibit was made possible thanks to a significant private gift and also in part by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008. The Legacy Amendment supports efforts to preserve Minnesota land, water and legacy, including Minnesota history and cultural heritage.

About the Minnesota Historical Society

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs, and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories, and connects people with history.