Thursday, June 26, 2014

Split Rock LIghthouse Tour, June 16th, 2014

Joe and I are spending more weekends in St. Cloud than we are on the North Shore this summer. This is 100% due to the upcoming wedding, move, and job search. So, on the few weekends we are up here, we’ve been checking some items off of the North Shore Bucket List. On June 16th, after living up here for three years, we finally went to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park for the Lighthouse tour. 

Hello Lighthouse

I KNOW! It’s hard to believe, but we’ve never actually taken the Lighthouse Tour. The day was cold, windy and rainy but we were determined. 42 degrees at 4pm? Pshaw! 45 mph winds off Lake Superior? A mere breeze! We were tourists and we were going to learn about the Split Rock Lighthouse, darnit.  Although the Lighthouse is within the boundaries of the state park, the Lighthouse itself is run by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Welcome to summer on the North Shore

We took the 20-minute guided tour, which met outdoors. There were people from all over the country – and world! – in our group. There was a couple from Florida, people from India, people from the East Coast…all of them bundled up and probably what the heck they were thinking with a trip to the North Shore of Minnesota in June.


We checked out the Foghorn house, and listened to the foghorn. The foghorn and the light station were put in after the deadly 1905 storm in which 29 ships were dashed upon the shore on a single day. For decades, there was no road up to the lighthouse so the Lighthouse Keepers had to boat in and live on site with their families. There were three Lighthouse Keepers, and they lived in three identical houses on site. They each worked eight-hour shifts, and when there was need for the foghorn there needed to be a Keeper in the Lighthouse AND in the Foghorn house. 

Rocky shore, upon which many a seafaring boat has crashed

The geology of the North Shore added an extra level of necessity for the Lighthouse: there is so much iron ore in the rocks that compasses are not reliable. Joe and I noticed this when we were driving up around the Vermillion Range last summer: the compass in his car was going nuts. Can you imagine being on the lake, knowing that there is a rocky shoreline nearby, and your compass is spinning wildly? Thank goodness there’s a Lighthouse!

Joe on the stairs

The Lighthouse itself isn’t all that tall, because it’s up on such a high and exposed point of land. Joe and I headed up the narrow stairs to see what the lens looked like. They keep it rotating, but they only light it once a year nowadays: on November 10th, the anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  The Lighthouse was in operation from 1910 to 1969, and then was re-opened as a Historic Site in 1971.  

Here I come, buddy!  No more loneliness for Homer and E.A.R.L.!

That is one helluva lens. Right now there is a 1,000 watt lightbulb…much easier to care for than the kerosene lantern that used to light the way. The Lighthouse Keepers had to constantly scrub the glass to keep it clean from soot and residue.  The beam can be seen sixty miles away on a clear night, but it's those not-so-clear-nights in which you want to see the light in the darkness.

I wonder what life would have been like as a Lighthouse Keeper. I probably would have gone nuts, Jack Torrance style. But was great to finally get out there and see the inside of the Lighthouse and the grounds, ticking that box on the North Shore Bucket List.

Mr. and Ms. Lighthouse Keepers, at your service

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elly. I'm looking for a photo of Split Rock Lighthouse to include in a MN travel book that we're publishing. I'd like to include the top photo on this page or one similar to it. We're almost ready to print the book and only need to find one or two more photos, so please contact me as soon as you're able. Email me at You can check out our website at

    Dan Downing
    Adventure Publications
    Cambridge, MN