Thursday, September 22, 2011

Harbor History - Minnesota Point Lighthouse

Harbor History - Minnesota Point Lighthouse

At the far end of Minnesota Point stands a lonely monument representing a significant era of the Duluth-Superior Harbor history. The ruins of the old Minnesota Point Lighthouse stand tribute to a long faded memory of our rich nautical heritage.

With the opening of the Sault Ste Marie Locks in 1855, larger sailing ships began to travel the waters of Lake Superior bringing the rich natural resources of furs, lumber, and minerals to the rest of the world. As large shipping traffic increased, the need for navigational beacons began to grow.  It would be another 30 years before electricity would be harnessed and 20 years after that, before electricity would be made widely available. The rocky coast of Lake Superior was especially dangerous during the nighttime hours and even more so during raging storms.

The great need for a lighthouse was recognized by Congress  and the Minnesota Point Lighthouse, located at the end of Park Point, was built in 1858 at a cost of $13,675. The original lighthouse stood 50 feet high and made was of red brick painted white for greater visibility.

The lighthouse was built 3/4 mile from the Superior entry into the harbor.  The fog signal was a tin horn blown by the keeper and at the top of the light was a 10 ft wooden lantern room with 4 windows containing the Fifth Order Fresnel Lens. The two story brick keepers house was located next to the tower.

Old Tales and interesting facts
  • RH Barrett was first keeper of the light. An old tin horn was used as the official “fog horn”. Barrett  or his wife would blow “fog horn” sometimes for hours until the incoming ship responded.  Barrett’s Fog horn sound came to be know by Superior residents as “Barrett’s Cow” because it sounded more like a dairy farm than a sea port.
  • The Minnesota Point Light is also known at the Zero Point. Zero Point refers to a specific spot at the base of the lighthouse that the bearings for the original lake surveys made by Lt Henry Wesley Bayfield for the British in 1817-25 were made.
  • Old Fisherman told stories of being able to row around the lighthouse during storms and spring runoff. .
  • There was also an ancient Indian burial ground near the lighthouse site until a northeaster in 1870 blew the sand away and exhumed the skeletons. Copper Indian ornaments and jewelry can still be found on this site. Another burial ground exists today on the Wisconsin side of the canal.
Due to shifting sands the lighthouse location needed to be moved.  On August 6, 1885 the lighthouse was discontinued and the light was moved to a new location on the North Pier of the Superior Entry.  The Keepers dwelling was still used for the keeper until the Light was moved a second time in 1893 to the Wisconsin side of the entry.  The keepers dwelling were finally abandoned in 1894 when new quarters were constructed of Wisconsin Point.

How to get there? ---at the end of Minnesota Point, take the hiking trail past Sky Harbor Airport for 1.5 mile. You will run right into it.

Information provided by Seeing The Light (Terry Pepper):
Lake Superior Maritime Marine Museum