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 Devils Island, WI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Lighthouse open for climbing.
Description: When Devils Island Lighthouse was finally activated in 1901, it became the eighth and final lighthouse to be built in the Apostle Islands. F. Ross Holland, a park historian for the National Park Service, made this bold declaration in one of his lighthouse books: “Within the boundaries of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the largest and finest single collection of lighthouses in the country.” Built in diverse styles and with a wide variety of materials, the lighthouses of the Apostle Islands truly are a prized collection, and it’s almost as if they were built to be a national park showcasing lighthouses.

Temporary and permanent towers
Photograph courtesy National Park Service
On March 2, 1889, Congress appropriated $15,000 for a lighthouse on Devils Island, the most northern in the Apostle Island archipelago. When finished, the lighthouse would serve as a coastal light, splitting the gap between Sand Island and Outer Island. Deciding that the island would need a fog signal as well, the Lighthouse Board asked for and received an additional $5,500 for this purpose in 1890.

In 1891, realizing an additional $22,000 would be needed to complete the station, the Lighthouse Board erected a four-story, pyramidal, wooden tower on the northern end of Devils Island to display a temporary, fixed red light of the fourth order. The light went into service on September 30, 1891, along with a ten-inch steam whistle housed in a one-story frame structure covered with heavy sheathing and corrugated iron outside and smooth iron inside.

In addition to the fog signal and temporary tower, ten acres of land were cleared so the light could be seen from all points of approach. A brick oil house and the first of two, stunning, redbrick, Queen Anne style keeper’s dwellings were also erected in 1891, along with a landing and the station’s boathouse, situated at the southern end of the island.

Title to the island was secured for $1,600 in 1895 through condemnation, and the State of Wisconsin ceded jurisdiction to the federal government. On March 2, 1895, Congress appropriated $22,000 “for constructing a permanent tower,” but as a second dwelling was also needed, the act was modified on June 11, 1896 so $4,000 of the sum could be used for the dwelling.

A work party arrived on Devils Island on July 1, 1897 and commenced construction of the assistant keeper’s dwelling. The metalwork for the tower was delivered in June 1898, and the permanent lighthouse was completed on October 17, 1898. The third-order Fresnel lens, ordered from Henry-Lepaute of Paris, France, finally arrived at the station on June 22, 1901 and was placed in operation on September 20, 1901. The lens had eight flash panels, and while completing one revolution every eighty seconds, it would alternately produce red and white flashes every ten seconds.

Devils Island Lighthouse before addition of braces
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The work crew in 1901 also built a fuel storage building for the fog signal, cleared about 1,000 feet of roadway to connect the boathouse to the tower and other buildings, and built a brownstone building for a hoisting engine on the northern end of the island.

Built of half-inch-thick steel plates, the cylindrical tower stands eighty feet tall and was originally braced at its base by eight latticed buttresses that stood thirteen feet high. A similar tower was also erected in 1898 at the entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal in Wisconsin, and it was soon found that the design had a major flaw: the tower would shake violently in high winds. In 1914, four of the buttresses were moved out from the tower and connected to vertical columns, linked with cross braces, that ran up the tower and connected to the watchroom. Also in 1914, the illuminant was changed to incandescent oil-vapor that increased the intensity of the red and white flashes.

Alexander McLean was serving as head keeper at Devils Island when the permanent tower was erected. Keeper McLean spent nearly three years on Menagerie Island as an assistant before being made head keeper at Michigan Island. His stint there lasted just four months, before McLean was transferred to Devils Island in October 1898. The isolated life on islands in Lake Superior somehow didn’t prevent Keeper McLean from finding a wife, and in 1903 he married Cecelia Carlson.

Cecelia spent her honeymoon on Devils Island and the next thirty years as the wife of a lighthouse keeper, but she never developed a liking for life at a lighthouse. “On Devil’s Island in storms the spray used to dash against my living room windows, 600 feet from the cliffs, and ooze through the windows and flood the floors so that I would have to take rags and sop it up,” she recalled. “I spent six years on the island. Tourists used to come from Bayfield and that was all the social contact I had. We always seemed to be on lonely outposts.”

A radiobeacon was established on Devils Island on October 30, 1925. A powerful air diaphone fog signal replaced the steam whistle in April 1927, and in 1928 the light was electrified.

The September 1928 edition of the Lighthouse Service Bulletin noted a visit to Devils Island by President Calvin Coolidge and his wife during an eighty-eight-day vacation in northern Wisconsin.

The presidential party arrived at noon on the yacht Nellwood from Bayfield, Wis., with a part of about 50 on board, the yacht being convoyed by the Coast Guard cutter Crawford, the steamer Madeline, and two speed boats. Lunch was served on the east dock at the light station, and the Nellwood left at 2 p.m. for Madeline Island.
After lunch, the President toured the lighthouse and signed the station’s logbook.

Aerial view showing radiobeacon and station layout
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Hans F. Christensen, who was head keeper at the time, said, “It’s the first time in my four years here or my 12 years at Eagle Harbor, that anything so great has happened.” The keeper declared the he was going to inform his inspector that Devils Island Lighthouse had been inspected and OK’d by the President of the United States himself.

By the time the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was formed in 1970, all of the lighthouses in the archipelago had been automated and de-staffed save Devils Island Lighthouse. Following the automation of LaPointe Lighthouse in 1964, the Coast Guard crew at Devils Island was responsible for all of the lights in the Apostle Islands. This continued until 1978, when Devils Island Lighthouse was automated and the station that was the last to be built became the last to be de-staffed.

Despite protests from local citizens and the Park Service, the Coast Guard removed the third-order Fresnel lens from Devils Island Lighthouse in 1989 after replacing it with a modern beacon mounted on the gallery railing. The lighthouse on Devils Island was the only one in the Apostle Islands still using a Fresnel lens. Local residents sued the Coast Guard for removing the lens from the tower, which had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, without proper notification.

Just three years later, the Park Service decided it would be fitting to return the lens to its original lantern room. After a Park Service conservator had spent three weeks restoring it, the lens was crated up and flown to Devils Island on a National Guard helicopter. On September 1, 1992, a tractor provided the power to hoist the 600-pound pieces up to the lantern room, where Robert Bolen, of Crescent City, California, reassembled them. Though inactive, the lens is at least back home where it had served mariners for over seventy-five years.

The station retains its fog signal building, oil houses, and two brick Queen Anne keeper's dwellings. The northern end of Devil's Island is ringed with sea caves seen here below the keeper's dwellings, and here below the tower.

Head Keepers: Henry J. Baker (1891 – 1893), Charles H. Brown (1893 – 1898), Alexander McLean (1898 – 1909), Frank W. Marshall (1909 – 1921), John Garraty (1921 – 1925), Hans F. Christensen (1925 – 1934), James W. Bard (1934 – 1941), Simonson (1941 – 1945), Alphonse Gustafson (1945 – 1951).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Annual Report of the Lake Carriers' Association, various years.
  4. Light Stations of Michigan Island, Outer Island, Devils Island, Long Island, and Sand Island, Volume III, National Park Service, March 2011.
  5. “Outer Island: Place or Remoteness and Beauty,” Jim Merkel, Lighthouse Digest, August, 1999.

Links:
Devils Island Light Station

Location: Located on the northern tip of Devils Island, part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore.
Latitude: 47.079524
Longitude: -90.728092

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


Travel Instructions: This lighthouse is best seen from the water, or by landing on the island and visiting the lighthouse. Boat tours that pass by the island are offered by Apostle Islands Cruise Service. The Lighthouse Celebration, held annually in September, provides an opportunity to land on the island and visit the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service. Grounds open, tower open in season, dwellings closed.

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