Description: With a length of thirteen miles and an average width of three, Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands, and before the founding of Superior in 1853 and Duluth in 1854, the settlement of La Pointe, on the island’s southwest shore, was the primary port on western Lake Superior. Originally established as a French trading post, La Pointe later became an outpost for the American Fur Company.
Sweet, Ransom, and Smith of Milwaukee were selected as the contractors for the lighthouse, and when their workers arrived in the area, they were directed to Michigan Island by Abraham Smolk, a local representative of the Lighthouse Board. The men dutifully erected a stone dwelling with attached tower only to have the work rejected by Captain Sitgreaves because it had been built on the wrong site. The contractors protested Sitgreaves’ rejection but were eventually forced to build a lighthouse on Long Island as well.
Rather than construct a second stone lighthouse, the contractors hastily erected a frame, one-and-a-half-story dwelling with a six-foot-square tower rising from one end of its pitched roof. A fourth-order Fresnel lens, installed in the tower’s nine-sided lantern, went into service in 1858, sending forth a white light at a focal plane of forty-two feet. Michigan Island Lighthouse was discontinued with the establishment of LaPointe Lighthouse.
A stone pier foundation was placed beneath LaPointe Lighthouse in 1864 as the wind had removed much of the sand from around the structure, jeopardizing its integrity. In 1869, stone brought in from Raspberry Island was crushed and placed around the lighthouse to prevent the shifting of the sand.
The influential Cleveland Vessel Owners’ Association petitioned the Lighthouse Board for a fog signal at LaPointe in 1887. The Board requested a $5,500 appropriation from Congress for a steam fog signal the following year, and the amount was granted on March 2, 1889. The machinery and boilers for the fog signal were constructed under contract and then shipped from Detroit to LaPointe, where work on the fog signal commenced in October 1890 and was completed three months later. Located three-fourths of a mile east of the lighthouse, the signal commenced operation with the opening of shipping in 1891 and was active anywhere from 150 to 695 hours per season, while consuming between 8 and 35 tons of coal.
The new LaPointe Lighthouse, cast by Chamblin S. Scott of Richmond, Virginia at a cost of $3, 912, consisted of a pyramidal, skeletal tower built around a cylindrical stairwell. Topped by a circular watchroom and an octagonal lantern room, the tower stood just over sixty-five feet tall and commenced displaying a fixed white light from a Henry-Lepaute, fourth-order, Fresnel lens on October 11, 1897, the same day Chequamegon Point Light was established.
As the keepers at LaPointe were now responsible for two lights and a fog signal, the original lighthouse was raised, a brick first story was added, and the rooms were arranged to create two separate dwellings that would allow a second assistant keeper to be assigned to the station. The wooden tower and lantern were removed from the dwelling as part of the renovations.
Joseph Sexton was appointed head keeper at LaPointe in 1889 and served at the station until his retirement in 1921. He witnessed the completion of the fog signal and the addition of the two new lighthouses and occasionally commented about these changes and other happenings in the station’s logbook. For example, on August 31, 1897, Keeper Sexton noted that he helped hoist two cast iron deck plates, which weigh 1,100 pounds apiece, to the top of the LaPointe Lighthouse.
July 21, 1897: “Chopped the timber down across the point to get the wind to drive the flies away for they are very bad.”
August 5, 1894: “Returned with my wife. Married Sunday the 5th, 8 A.M.” This was Sophia, Keeper Sexton’s second wife, a niece of Mary, his deceased first wife. Mary bore five children, and Sophia would have six while at the station.
July 24, 1899: “This is my birthday. Just struck the even 50 today. Feel young and good. Hand steady and firm. Put a floor in the barn today. Flies very bad. Steamers in 4 out 3.”
May 27, 1909: “Lightning struck the tower at the fog signal & put out the light 9:10 P.M. & tore up the slab walk some for about 300 feet and run around the signal.” A lightning rod was placed atop the tower the following November, and its cable was buried eight feet deep in the sand.
On April 18, 1925, a powerful air diaphone, the first to be used in the Apostle Islands, replaced the station’s steam whistle, and on October 20, 1927 a radiobeacon was erected as an additional aid for mariners. The fog signal and radiobeacon were synchronized in 1931. LaPointe Lighthouse was electrified on August 3, 1937, and over the following two years a triplex was built near the tower and fog signal building using Public Works Administration funds.
Benjamin Hudak was appointed second assistant keeper at LaPointe Lighthouse in June 1930 and was promoted to first assistant just five months later. After eighteen years at the station, Hudak became head keeper in 1948 and served in that role until the station was automated in 1964.
Located at roughly the middle of Long Island, part of the
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service. Grounds open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.