Learn about the significance of Lake Superior shipping and the famous shipwrecks that prompted the lighthouse to be built. The exhibit features artifacts and information on the history of the lighthouse and the North Shore.
This exhibit covers a wide history but focuses on how, over time, people have tried to interact with or control Lake Superior. The exhibit features never before seen artifacts and recently untold stories. New items include the ship's wheel from the Madeira, Keeper Young's hat, and many other items that reflect what it was like to raise a family at the light station. The crown of the exhibit is a full scale replica of the third-order Fresnel lens that all visitors will be able to enjoy.
Many people are familiar with the Split Rock Lighthouse and its iconic imagery that rests atop a cliff on the shores of Lake Superior. What many people are not familiar with are the stories of the Indigenous people who have called the place where the lighthouse stands their home. Minnesota comes from the Dakota language, Mni Sota Makoce, "where the waters reflect the sky". The importance of water when it comes to this area can be seen throughout cultures and time. While the history of the lighthouse attracts visitors to this place, the lighthouse is only a small part of the story.
In the center of the gallery is a full scale replica of the third-order Fresnel lens that sits atop the lighthouse. The lens includes 252 prisms and weighs 650 pounds. It is made out of acrylic prisms and coated aluminum.
The Madeira sank in the 1905 storm that prompted the construction of Split Rock Lighthouse. It currently rests at the bottom of Lake Superior at Gold Rock Point a short distance from the Lighthouse. The wheel sat at the bottom of Lake Superior for decades, before being brought up by a dive club in 1961 and donated to Superior Public Museums. In 2020, the wheel was donated to MNHS. Considering the wheel spent more than 50 years at the bottom of Lake Superior and almost 60 years on display, it is in very good condition.
See the actual uniform hat worn by Split Rock’s first head keeper, Orren “Pete” Young. The traditional lighthouse keepers hat features the emblem of the United States Lighthouse Service, a lighthouse encircled by a laurel wreath. Young would have worn this hat any time he had to be in uniform.