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 Two Harbors, MN    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Overnight lodging available.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.
Description: Two Harbors Lighthouse is situated on a point that separates Agate Bay and Burlington Bay. The village of Burlington was platted along the shore of Burlington Bay in 1856, while the village of Agate Bay was laid out in 1885. The two villages merged and reincorporated as the city of Two Harbors in 1907.

Between 1880 and 1882, Charlemagne Tower, a financier from Philadelphia, purchased 20,000 acres of land in the Vermillion Range, located roughly sixty miles inland from Two Harbors. Tower partnered with other investors to form the Minnesota Iron Company in 1882, and using their pooled resources, construction of a railroad to link Agate Bay and the Vermillion Range commenced the following year. The first load of iron ore from the Vermillion Range was loaded on the steamer Hecla and consort-barge Ironton on August 1, 1884, and within two years, the Minnesota Iron Company was shipping a half-million tons of ore from Agate Bay each year.

Two Harbors Lighthouse in 1893
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.
Congress appropriated $10,000 on August 4, 1886 for a lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling at Two Harbors. Frustrated in its attempts to acquire a site on the headlands, the Lighthouse Board decided to place the light on pier-work in Agate Bay and estimated the work could be completed during the 1889 navigation season. Due to the delay in starting the project, Congress had to renew the original $10,000 appropriation in October 2, 1888, and to this they added $5,500 on March 2, 1889, for a fog signal. As the pier in Agate Bay was deemed “so narrow and so exposed to the sea that the station, if built upon it, would be insecure,” the Lighthouse Board decided the station had to be built on the rocky promontory between the two bays.

The fog signal boilers and machinery were completed under contract and delivered to the lighthouse depot at Detroit in the first half of 1890, but as the owners of the desired land were “obstinate” and “refused to sell,” the Board had to ask the State of Minnesota to intervene. Condemnation proceedings were initiated in July 1890, and a deed to the site was finally obtained two months later. After plans for a tower with an attached keeper’s dwelling were drawn up, advertisements for the work were circulated, and a contract was awarded in June of 1891.

Work on the headland commenced on July 15, 1891. After an approach to the site from the harbor’s breakwater was cleared, blasting for the foundation of the lighthouse was carried out in August and September. Construction continued uninterrupted through the summer and fall, and the lighthouse and fog signal were finished in November, when the fog signal was tested and found to function satisfactorily. Too late to be of service that season, the station was put into operation on April 15, 1892, with Charles Lederle as its first keeper.

Two Harbors Lighthouse consists of a two-story, square, redbrick dwelling with gables facing the south and west, and a twelve-foot-square light tower attached to its southwest corner. The tower, built three bricks thick, is surmounted by an octagonal lantern room originally equipped with a fixed, fourth-order Fresnel lens that had a focal plane of forty-three-and-a-half-feet above the ground. The one-story fog signal building, which housed duplicate machinery and boilers for ten-inch steam whistles, was located 100 feet southwest of the lighthouse and was covered with corrugated iron on the outside and plain iron inside. A tramway lead from the station to the shore, 300 feet to the south.

Two Harbors Lighthouse in the 1940s
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.
In 1895, the station’s barn was converted into a dwelling for the assistant keeper, and on December 14th of that year, an eight-day lantern light was established on the west end of the breakwater. During its first five years, the fog signal was in operation an average of 576 hours each season. In 1898, a parabolic deflector was placed atop a platform on the roof of the fog signal house to direct more of the sound seaward.

A well, fourteen feet deep and with a diameter of ten feet, was blasted into the rock at the station in 1906. A brick arch, fitted with a manhole cover covered the well. The water for the steam fog signal was originally extracted from Agate Bay and piped to the station, but in 1922, the year the signal was changed to a diaphone, the water supply for the fog signal was switched to the well.

In 1921, the kerosene light used in the Fresnel lens was replaced by an electric light that increased the light’s power from 30,000 candlepower to 230,000 candlepower. The fourth-order Fresnel lens, a revolving four-sided lens that had replaced the original fixed lens in 1907, was removed in 1969 and transferred to the Inland Seas Maritime Museum. In its place, a twenty-four-inch aerobeacon was installed that rotates every twenty seconds to produce the following signature: 0.4 seconds of light, 4.6 seconds of darkness, 0.4 seconds of light, and 14.6 seconds of darkness. This beacon remains in use today.

The fog signal was discontinued in 1973, and in 1981 the light was automated, allowing its Coast Guard personnel to be stationed elsewhere. The Lake County Historical Society leased the property in 1987, and the following year they started to provide tours of the station. In 1998, ownership of the lighthouse was transferred to the historical society through a bill passed in Congress. To help provide funds for the restoration and maintenance of the station, the society opened the lighthouse as a bed and breakfast in 1999. The society assumed responsibility for the light from the Coast Guard in 2001, and now each month volunteers clean the lenses and reflectors in the aerobeacon, check the lamps, and change the oil in the rotating mechanism.

Visitors to the lighthouse can tour three buildings: 1) The light tower, whose forty steps wind up through the four stories to the lantern room. The bottom story of the tower originally served as the bedroom for the second assistant keeper. 2) The assistant keeper’s dwelling – a two-story wooden structure that has been restored to the late 1880s era. 3) The pilothouse from the ore carrier Frontenac.

Head Keepers: Charles Lederle (1892 – 1910), Otto Redman (1910 – 1919), Alexander McLean (1919 – 1931), Lawrence T. Pederson (at least 1935 – at least 1940).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Light-House Board, various years.
  2. Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast website.

Location: Located on a hill overlooking the harbor in Two Harbors.
Latitude: 47.01407
Longitude: -91.66391

For a larger map of Two Harbors Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 61 in Two Harbors, take 5th Street South to 3rd Avenue. Turn left on 3rd Avenue, and then right onto 3rd Street. Follow 3rd Street to the parking area at its end. Tours of Two Harbors Lighthouse, which operates year round as the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast, are offered Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., May through October. Call (218) 834-4898 for tour information or (218) 834-4814 to make a reservation for the B&B.

The lighthouse is owned by the Lake County Historical Society and is managed by Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. Grounds open, lighthouse open to tours daily in season and to overnight guests year round.

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