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 Wisconsin Point (Superior Entry Breakwater), WI    
A hike of some distance required.
Description: Superior Bay is a natural harbor in the northwest corner of Lake Superior that is fed by the St. Louis River and empties into the lake through a natural opening, known as Superior Entry, which is bounded by Minnesota Point and Wisconsin Point. Together, these two points create the longest freshwater sandbar in the world.

Pierhead light and fog signal in 1904
Photograph courtesy National Archives
A lighthouse commenced operation on Minnesota Point in 1858, just five years after the completion of the bypass canal at Sault Ste. Marie allowed vessels to move between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. Minnesota Point Lighthouse was extinguished in 1885, its role having been taken over by a pierhead light on the northern side of Superior Entry. In June 1893, the pierhead light, a skeletal frame structure of twelve-inch square timbers, was moved to the pier on the southern side of Superior Entry, where an elevated walkway was built to provide access to the light in stormy weather. The Lighthouse Board recommended that a fog signal be built to serve with the relocated light and that a dwelling be erected on the Wisconsin side of the entry for the keeper, who was still living in the dwelling at the old Minnesota Point Lighthouse.

A six-inch steam whistle, housed in a twenty by forty-foot building just behind the light, was placed in operation for the first time on October 15, 1893, and a duplex, with six rooms in each of its apartments, was built for the two keepers now required to run the station. During its first decade of operation, the steam whistle was in operation an average of 394 hours each year.

In 1898, a pole was placed on the inner end of the south pier, and a post lantern was shone from it to range with the pierhead light. This rear pole light was replaced in 1902 by a square, pyramidal frame tower, sixty-two feet high, which was painted white and topped by a black octagonal lantern room. A fourth-order lens was mounted in the lantern room and started to display its fixed white light with the opening of navigation on April 1, 1902. This frame tower had been used as a temporary lighthouse on Devils Island and became available in late 1901 after that station was completed.

Inner pier light in 1904
Photograph courtesy National Archives
A letter from the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to the Secretary of the Treasury, dated December 10, 1904, detailed improvements planned for Superior Entry.

The lights on the docks and in the streets of the town of East Superior, Douglas County, Wis., back of Superior Entrance, are confusing to mariners. Some change is needed which will render the range lights of the harbor more conspicuous and more easily distinguished by vessels desiring to enter from Lake Superior.

The War Department, in the progress of river and harbor improvements, is now engaged in building a concrete pier to the south of the old timber pier upon which the fog-signal and range lights now stand. After the construction of the concrete pier it is proposed to remove the crib pier, and this will of itself compel the removal of the present structures.

It is proposed to replace the present lights with two fixed fourth-order white lights varied by flashes, which will overcome the objection to the present lights.

It is estimated that it will cost $20,000 to reconstruct the range lights and fog-signal house on the permanent concrete pier now being built and for the changing of the lens apparatus of both beacons, and it is recommended by the Light-House Board.

Before the new pier was finished, a storm on November 27 and 28, 1905 washed away the front light and heavily damaged the fog signal building, rendering the steam whistle inoperable. Repairs to the fog signal and elevated walkway were effected, and trestle steps were installed to provide access to the roof of the signal building, where a temporary frame lantern was placed to serve as the front light.

On June 30, 1906, Congress appropriated $20,000 for range lights to mark the new south pier, but after this appropriation, the Superior Entry project was expanded to included not only new parallel piers but also two converging breakwaters to protect the entrance. The Lighthouse Board requested an additional $25,000 to cover a light and fog signal on the southern breakwater, and three non-attended acetylene beacons to mark the piers and northern breakwater. Congress provided this amount on March 4, 1911, and work on the new lighthouse commenced that fall.

Superior Entry Lighthouse with fog trumpets in 1915
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Superior Entry Lighthouse went into commission on October 10, 1912 at the outer end of the southern breakwater. This two-story structure is oval in plan and situated on a concrete pier that rises eleven-and-a-half feet above the concrete breakwater. The circular tower rises from the outer end of the lighthouse, and is surmounted by a cast-iron deck and fourth-order helical bar lantern, from which an occulting white light was exhibited by a fourth-order, Sautter, Lemonier, & Cie. drum lens at a focal plane of seventy feet. A clockwork mechanism, powered by a seventy-five pound weight that was suspended in a drop tube and had to be wound up every four hours, revolved a screen inside the lens to produce the light’s characteristic: five seconds of light, followed by five seconds of eclipse.

The concrete pier beneath the lighthouse provided storage for oil, paints, gasoline, and water. The first story of the lighthouse, also of concrete, housed two twenty-two-horsepower air compressors and tanks, a heating plant, a bathroom, and cold storage room. The lighthouse’s second story, made of wood, contained a kitchen, living room, three bedrooms, and a bathroom.

The keepers’ duplex onshore continued to be used as a shore residence for the keepers, and the living quarters at the lighthouse were only used in the case of emergency or inclement weather. The keepers typically accessed the lighthouse by boat, but they could also walk the breakwater, which had a steel cable running its length for the keepers’ safety.

An additional assistant keeper was authorized for the station, after a fourth light besides the main light on the south breakwater was established at Superior Entry. These four lights were a fifty-foot skeletal steel tower on the north breakwater, a twenty-five foot skeletal tower north pier, a twenty-five foot skeletal tower on the south pier, and a light on the inner end of the south pier. To accommodate the third keeper, a new dwelling, built of concrete and hollow tile, was constructed near the duplex in 1916.

A radio beacon was established at Superior Entry in 1938. The station was automated in 1970, when a DCB 24 aerobeacon was installed in the lantern room. Peter E. Jones was serving at the Coast Guard base in Duluth shortly after the automation. When the Superior Entry Light was reported out, Jones and another Coastie took a boat over to Wisconsin Point and walked out on the breakwater. The light was not functioning as they approached the lighthouse, but when they got up into the lantern room, it was flashing. The pair checked the spare bulbs in the automatic changer and found they were all good. Upon returning to the boat, the Coastie said, “You know, I had the strangest feeling that someone was in the tower with us.” Jones just laughed and told him not to watch so much TV.

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It was no laughing matter when Jones was sent back to the lighthouse four days later. As he was walking down the breakwater to check out the light, it started flashing again, and Jones could find nothing wrong with the apparatus or any signs of a forced entry at the lighthouse. A week later, Jones was back at the lighthouse after following another reported outage. This time, however, the light was still off when he reached the lantern room. As he was leaning against the lantern room glass studying the problem, the light suddenly came back on. A bit startled and more than a little annoyed, Jones spoke out to any perpetrator that might be listening. “I don’t know if you’re an old keeper or assistant keeper, but please stop doing this. A crew will not be coming back, no matter what you do or how lonely you are; you’ll just be stuck with me each time something happens. If you are one of the old keepers, it’s your job to help me keep the light running and I’d appreciate your assistance in doing so.”

Jones received the impression that he had connected with someone – or something, and over the next several months, before he was transferred to another station, the light never malfunctioned again. The light and foghorn remain active today.

On May 1, 2013, the General Services Administration announced that Wisconsin Point Lighthouse was excess to the needs of the Coast Guard and was "being made available at no cost to eligible entities defined as federal agencies, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations, for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes." Interested entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest. If the lighthouse is not transferred, it will be sold.

Head Keepers: Edwin C. Bishop (1913 – at least 1917), Angor J. Hagstrom (at least 1921), Hans F. Christensen (1934 – 1939), John W. Kirkendall (1939 – 1951), David Simonson (at least 1960).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

References

  1. Annual Report of the Light-House Board, various years.
  2. Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Lighthouse Inspection Report for Superior Entry South Breakwater Light Station, 1915.
  4. “The Lonely Keeper,” BMC Peter E. Jones, Lighthouse Digest, August, 2010.

Location: Located at the end of a breakwater marking the entrance to Superior Bay.
Latitude: 46.71015
Longitude: -92.0063

For a larger map of Wisconsin Point (Superior Entry Breakwater) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 2 south of Superior, turn east on Moccasin Mike Road and travel 1.4 miles. At this point, turn left onto Wisconsin Point Road and follow this road out onto Wisconsin Point at the end of a narrow finger of land helping to form Superior Bay. The Superior Entry Lighthouse can be see on your right near the end of the road. As the first portion of the breakwater is composed of large stone blocks, some agility and a great deal of energy may be needed to reach the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Barbara Hammerbeck, used by permission.