Split Rock Lighthouse

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Split Rock Lighthouse
Split Rock Lighthouse lit at sunset, 2010
Split Rock Lighthouse is located in Minnesota
Split Rock Lighthouse
LocationSplit Rock Lighthouse State Park, Beaver Bay Township, Lake County, Minnesota
Coordinates47°12′00″N 91°22′01″W / 47.20005°N 91.3669°W / 47.20005; -91.3669Coordinates: 47°12′00″N 91°22′01″W / 47.20005°N 91.3669°W / 47.20005; -91.3669
Year first lit1910
Tower shapeOctagonal
Tower height54-foot (16 m) tower on a 130-foot (40 m) cliff
Original lens3rd order, bi-valve type Fresnel lens
Range22 nautical miles (41 km; 25 mi)
Characteristic0.5-second flash every 9.5 seconds
ARLHS numberUSA-783.[1][2]
HeritageNational Historic Landmark, place listed on the National Register of Historic Places Edit this on Wikidata
Split Rock Lighthouse
Nearest cityTwo Harbors, Minnesota
NRHP reference #69000073
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJune 23, 1969[3]
Designated NHLJune 23, 2011
Architect's design of Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse is a lighthouse located southwest of Silver Bay, Minnesota, USA on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The structure was designed by lighthouse engineer Ralph Russell Tinkham and was completed in 1910 by the United States Lighthouse Service at a cost of $75,000, including the buildings and the land. It is considered one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the United States.


Split Rock Lighthouse was built in response to the great loss of ships during the famous Mataafa Storm of 1905, in which 29 ships were lost on Lake Superior.[4] One of these shipwrecks, the Madeira, is located just north of the lighthouse.

It is built on a 133-foot (41 m) sheer cliff eroded by wave action from a diabase sill containing inclusions of anorthosite.[5] The octagonal building is a steel-framed brick structure with concrete trim on a concrete foundation set into the rock of the cliff.[4] It is topped with a large, steel lantern which features a third order, bi-valve type Fresnel lens manufactured by Barbier, Bernard and Turenne Company in Paris, France. The tower was built for a second order lens, but when construction went over budget, there was only enough funding remaining for the smaller third order lens. The lens floats on a bearing surface of liquid mercury which allows near frictionless operation. The lens is rotated by an elaborate clockwork mechanism that is powered by weights running down the center of the tower which are then reset by cranking them back to the top.[6] When completed, the lighthouse was lit with an incandescent oil vapor lamp that burned kerosene.

At the time of its construction, there were no roads to the area and all building materials and supplies arrived by water and lifted to the top of the cliff by crane. The light was first lit on July 31, 1910. Thanks to its dramatic location, the lighthouse soon became a tourist attraction for sailors and excursion boats. So much so, that in 1924 a road (now Minnesota State Highway 61) was built to allow land access.

In 1940, the station was electrified and the lamp was replaced with a 1000 watt electric bulb, and the incandescent oil vapor lamp was moved to Au Sable Point Lighthouse in Northern Michigan. Split Rock was outfitted with a fog signal housed in a building next to the light tower. The original signal was a pair of sirens driven by two Franklin 30 hp (22 kW) gasoline-driven air compressors manufactured by Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company. In 1932 the gasoline engines were replaced with diesel engines. The steam sirens were replaced with a Type F-2-T diaphone (be-you) type signal in 1936. The station and the fog signal were electrified four years later, but discontinued in 1961.

The light was retired in 1969 by the U. S. Coast Guard. The lighthouse is now part of the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. The site includes the original tower and lens, the fog signal building, the oil house, and the three keepers' houses. It is restored to appear as it did in the late 1920s. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Notwithstanding that the light has been retired, every November 10 the lighthouse emits a light in memory of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald which sank on that date in 1975. On June 30, 2011, the lighthouse was designated as a National Historic Landmark.[7]

The lighthouse keeper, Lee Radzak, worked at the lighthouse from 1982-2019, the longest tenure of any lighthouse keeper at the site.[8]

In art[edit]

The United States Postal Service issued a stamp that featured the light on June 17, 1995. It was one of five lighthouses chosen for the "Lighthouses of the Great Lakes" series[9] postage stamp designed by Howard Koslow in 1995. There was one lighthouse chosen on each of the Great Lakes.[10] The five lighthouses are Split Rock Light on Lake Superior,[11] St Joseph Light on Lake Michigan, Spectacle Reef Light on Lake Huron,[12] Marblehead Light (Ohio) on Lake Erie[13] and Thirty Mile Point Light on Lake Ontario.[14]

Because of its picturesque form and location, it has been the subject of many photographs and postcards.[15] The lighthouse was also in the 2013 film The Great Gatsby.



Original, microfilmed, and photocopied records of the lighthouse keepers, containing daily entries on station activities and upkeep; expenditures; weather; shipping conditions; visitors; and social events on Lake Superior's north shore during the shipping season are available for research use at the Minnesota Historical Society.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Weidner Publishing Group "Split Rock (Lake Superior) Light - ARLHS USA-783." 2003. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  2. ^ "Split Rock (Lake Superior}". Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  3. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Pepper, Terry (2003). "Split Rock Light". Seeing The Light: Lighhouses of the western Great Lakes. Retrieved 2010-01-16. External link in |work= (help)
  5. ^ Ojakangas, Richard W.; Matsch, Charles L. (1982), Minnesota's Geology, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 173, ISBN 0-8166-0953-5
  6. ^ Buchta, Jim (2010). "Beacon on the shore: On its 100th anniversary, Split Rock Lighthouse remains one of the state's most popular tourist attractions". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2010-05-09.
  7. ^ "AMERICA'S GREAT OUTDOORS: Secretary Salazar Designates 14 New National Historic Landmarks". June 30, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  8. ^ Desmond, Declan. "Split Rock Lighthouse's longest-serving keeper retiring". Bring Me The News. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  9. ^ "Stamp images, Great Lakes Lighthouses".
  10. ^ "Split Rock Lighthouse stamp". Archived from the original on 2006-05-07. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  11. ^ "Postage stamp artwork, Split Rock Lighthouse Stamp".[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ Postage stamp artwork, Spectacle Reef Lighthouse Stamp.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Postage stamp artwork, Marblehead Lighthouse Stamp.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Postage stamp artwork, Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse Stamp".[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Split Rock Light postcard collection Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "SPLIT ROCK LIGHTHOUSE: An Inventory of Their Records at the Minnesota Historical Society". Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved July 11, 2018.

External links[edit]