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 Duluth Harbor North Breakwater, MN    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.
Description: An act of June 3, 1896, unified the harbors of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin and provided over $3 million for improvements. Part of this money was used to widen the Duluth Canal and replace the existing piers with substantial structures of timber and monolithic concrete. Butler Ryan Company of St. Paul was contracted for the construction of the substructure and superstructure for the new north pier, and work started in April 1898. The south pier was completed in 1900 and marked the following year by a pair of range lights, while the north pier was completed in 1901 and was not lit.

Duluth North Pier Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
The piers each have a length of about 1,700 feet and project roughly 1,150 feet beyond the shoreline. The foundation cribs extend twenty-two feet below low-water, and the concrete superstructures rise to a height of ten to eighteen feet above low-water. The lake entrance, between the piers, is 300 feet wide.

In 1908, the Lighthouse Board acknowledged the need to mark the north pier:

The approach to Duluth Harbor is one of the worst and most dangerous on the whole chain of lakes. The entrance piers are only 300 feet in width, and the north pier is so close to the shore that a vessel making a mistake in judging the width would be immediately on the rocks. The Lake Carriers' Association considers this a matter of such importance that it has made arrangements for the exhibition of private lights for the balance of the season of navigation in 1908.

The local officers of the Eleventh district, after careful investigation, state that navigation will be very decidedly facilitated by the establishment of a light on the north pier, and the Board therefore recommends that such light be established, at a cost of $4,000.

Congress appropriated $4,000 on March 4, 1909, and after plans and specifications were prepared for a metal tower, the lowest bid for furnishing and delivering the metalwork was accepted. A conical tower consisting of latticed steel columns covered with a 5/16” steel shell was erected on the outer end of the north pier and lit for the first time on April 7, 1910. The lighthouse stands thirty-seven feet tall and tapers from ten feet six inches at its base to eight feet at the base of the octagonal lantern room.

A fifth-order, Henry-Lepaute Fresnel was mounted on a pedestal in the lantern room, and a motor connected to the city’s electric lighting system was used to drive a clockwork that produced the light’s characteristic of fixed white two seconds, eclipse two seconds. Three keepers were assigned to care for the range lights on the south pier along with the pierhead light on the north pier. The head keeper lived in a frame building that had been built in 1874, when the first light on the south pier was established, and the two assistants rented houses in the city until a redbrick duplex was built across from the old keeper’s dwelling in 1912/1913.

The Duluth Canal piers are a dangerous location during a storm. On the night of April 30, 1967, two sixteen-year-old twins and their seventeen-year-old brother were challenging ten to fifteen-waves on the north pier, when witnesses observed a huge wave sweep one of them away. Boatswain’s Mate First Class Edgar Culbertson, Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Richard R. Callahan, and Fireman Ronald C. Prei from the local Coast Guard base braved the storm and ventured out on the pier to rescue the two boys reportedly stranded at the pierhead light. The men tethered themselves together, with a spacing of twenty-five feet, and by the light of hand lanterns, proceeded to the end of the pier.

After finding no trace of the boys at the lighthouse, the coastguardsmen headed back. While making their way along the pier, a twenty-foot wave swept Culbertson off his feet and carried him over the breakwater wall and into the turbulent Lake Superior waters. Despite a valiant effort by his crewmates, Culbertson perished. Culbertson was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard Medal, and a plaque on the north pier commemorates his sacrifice.

In 2014, an LED beacon replaced the active Fresnel lens in the lantern room. The change reduced the range of the light from about fourteen nautical miles to ten-and-a-half nautical miles, but the historic lens will no longer be subjected to temperature fluctuations and ultraviolet rays that can cause the lens to deteriorate.

Head Keepers: Ernest R. Jefferson (1873 – 1888), James Prior (1888 – 1908), Alexander Shaw (1908 – 1910), Charles Lederle (1910 – at least 1918), Edwin C. Bishop (at least 1920 – at least 1930), John Woods (at least 1935 – at least 1940).

Photo Gallery: 1

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 Duluth North Pier Light Station, 1910.

Location: Located at the end of the northern breakwater, marking the entrance to the canal in Duluth.
Latitude: 46.78092
Longitude: -92.08829

For a larger map of Duluth Harbor North Breakwater Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Interstate 35 in Duluth, take exit 256-B and proceed to Lake Avenue. Turn south onto Lake Avenue and continue straight onto Canal Park Drive which will lead you to a parking area near the canal. You can walk out on the northern breakwater and view the light at the end of the southern breakwater.

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

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