Split Rock Lighthouse stands as an enduring testament to maritime history and the indomitable spirit of the North Shore. Perched atop a dramatic cliff above Lake Superior, this iconic landmark has captivated visitors for generations with its majestic beauty and rich heritage. From its towering heights to its picturesque surroundings, Split Rock Lighthouse offers a glimpse into the past and a gateway to the wonders of Lake Superior. Join us as we explore the top ten fascinating facts about this legendary lighthouse, delving into its history, architectural marvels, and the profound impact it has had on the maritime community.

1. Guardian of Lake Superior

Lifesaving Service crew rowing out to rescue survivors of the SS Mataafa wreck, taken on November 29, 1905 ~UW-Superior Lake Superior Maritime Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The construction of Split Rock Lighthouse was prompted by the fury of a November gale in 1905, which wreaked havoc and caused the wreckage of nearly 30 ships along the Lake Superior coastline, necessitating the need for a reliable navigational aid. Split Rock Lighthouse emerged as a vital beacon of safety, guiding ships through the perilous waters and helping prevent further disasters. With its strategic location on the North Shore, the lighthouse served as a steadfast guardian, warning mariners of the treacherous coastline and providing a guiding light to ensure safe passage. Its construction and operation played a crucial role in enhancing maritime safety and preserving the lives of countless sailors traversing Lake Superior’s unpredictable waters.

2. Masterful Engineering

Ralph Russell Tinkham 1908 Blueprint of Split Rock lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse was designed by Ralph Russell Tinkham, an engineer for the Eleventh Lighthouse District in Detroit. The 54-foot-tall octagonal lighthouse showcases a riveted steel framework encased in buff-colored brick. Resting on a poured concrete foundation and floor, the lighthouse exhibits a harmonious blend of structural integrity and architectural elegance. Tinkham’s meticulous design ensures that Split Rock Lighthouse stands as a remarkable beacon of maritime safety and a testament to engineering excellence.

3. Iconic Light and Beacon

Split Rock Lighthouse features a renowned signature light that has become an enduring symbol. Built in 1910, the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse’s 32-step spiral staircase houses the original French-built Fresnel lens. The light emitted from Split Rock Lighthouse boasts an official range of 22 miles. This remarkable lens, still operational with its original clockwork mechanism, continues to illuminate the night sky, though usually just for ceremonial purposes. While the lighthouse itself was decommissioned in 1969, the lantern remains in operational condition.

4. Preservation Efforts

The preservation and restoration of Split Rock Lighthouse began in the 1970s. The Minnesota Historical Society acquired the property and diligently worked to restore it to its original condition, ensuring its historical significance was preserved for future generations.

5. Museum Exhibits

Replica lighthouse lens exhibit courtesy of Split Rock Lighthouse

The immersive exhibits showcase a wide range of artifacts and unveils untold stories that have been recently discovered. Among the intriguing items are the ship’s wheel from the renowned vessel Madeira and Keeper Young’s hat, providing a glimpse into the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and their family. Adding to the allure, visitors can marvel at a full-scale replica of the third-order Fresnel lens, the crowning jewel of the exhibit. With its remarkable artifacts and engaging displays, the Museum Exhibits at Split Rock Lighthouse provide a unique and enriching experience for all who explore its halls.

6. Scenic Location

Situated within Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Split Rock Lighthouse sits atop a 130-foot cliff, offering visitors stunning panoramic views of Lake Superior, the rocky coastline, and the surrounding natural beauty. The dramatic cliffs, towering forests, and pristine waters create a captivating backdrop that captivates visitors from all angles. Whether you’re standing at the base of the cliff, gazing up at the majestic tower, or taking in the panoramic views from the lantern room, the scenic surroundings of Split Rock Lighthouse provide a truly awe-inspiring experience. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature, to witness the ever-changing moods of the lake, and to appreciate the majestic beauty that envelops this iconic landmark.

7. Historic Landmark

Split Rock Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minnesota. In 1969, Split Rock Lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark for its historical significance and architectural beauty.

8. Edmund Fitzgerald Beacon Lighting Ceremony

Annually held on or around November 10th, the Edmund Fitzgerald Ceremony at Split Rock Lighthouse commemorates the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. The ceremony brings together participants to honor the lives lost and pay tribute to the crew members of the ill-fated ship. During the Edmund Fitzgerald Beacon Lighting Ceremony, the lantern is lit, providing a solemn tribute to the tragic sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and serving as a beacon of remembrance for mariners and visitors alike.

9. Majestic Heights

Split Rock Lighthouse stands as a majestic sentinel overlooking the stunning expanse of Lake Superior. Situated atop a towering cliff that soars 130 feet above the lake’s shimmering waters, the lighthouse commands a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. The lighthouse’s iconic tower, reaching a height of 54 feet, adds to its imposing presence. Perched on this lofty perch, Split Rock Lighthouse stands as a symbol of strength and resilience, guiding ships with its beacon and ensuring their safe passage through the depths of Lake Superior, which itself lies at an elevation of 602 feet above sea level.

10. First Light Keeper

Split Rock’s longest resident keeper, Lee Radzak retired after 36 years in 2019 – photo credit Matt Schroderus

From 1910 to 1928, Orren “Pete” Young held the esteemed position of the first head lighthouse keeper at Split Rock Light Station. With a background as a sailor, Young embarked on his lighthouse career in 1901, serving along the Michigan coast of Lake Superior. In 1910, he relocated to the newly established Split Rock Lighthouse. While his wife and four children would spend summers at the lighthouse, they never made it their permanent residence. During the later years of his service, the family resided in a year-round home located 20 miles south of Split Rock in Two Harbors. Young faithfully served until his retirement in 1928, as mandated when he reached the age of 70. His dedication and contribution as the inaugural head lighthouse keeper remain an integral part of Split Rock Lighthouse’s legacy.

These facts highlight the significance of Split Rock Lighthouse as a beacon of maritime history, architectural excellence, and natural splendor, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.