Duluth’s Most Endangered Buildings, Part 1: Minnesota Point Lighthouse

Minnesota Point Lighthouse Ruins (1858)  |  Southern End of Minnesota Point.

Ruins of the Minnesota Point Lighthouse, photographed in 2009 by Dennis O’Hara.

If you hike the Minnesota Point Hiking Trail behind Sky Harbor Airport, you will eventually encounter a roughly 30-foot-tall crumbling tower of red brick and limestone surrounded by a dilapidated chain-link fence. This is what remains of the Minnesota Point Lighthouse, the first lighthouse built at the Head of the Lakes.

Scroll down for aerial views showing the ruins’ location.

The light was commissioned after the Soo Locks on the St. Mary’s River opened in 1855, allowing larger vessels to enter Lake Superior, which essentially opened shipping traffic from New York to the Head of the Lakes. It marked the Superior Entry, the natural divide between Minnesota and Wisconsin Points. In 1858 German stonemason Adam Dopp used red Ohio brick to construct the tower and a keeper’s home nearby, later coating the tower with a limestone whitewash. He centered the lighthouse atop mile marker zero, set there by George Stuntz a few years earlier and used for all surveys mapping Lake Superior and what is now the Duluth-Superior Harbor

Besides its distinction as the first Lake Superior lighthouse and its significant location, the lighthouse symbolically represents the shift from Superior to Duluth as the center of trade at the Head of the Lakes. Because traffic through the Superior Entry became so rare after the ship canal was dug, the federal government shut down the lighthouse in 1885—and by that time the shifting sands of the point had moved the entry significantly south of the lighthouse (today it is about a half mile away). (Read a more complete history of the Minnesota Point Light here.)

Current Condition: Unstable. Photographs of the lighthouse ruins taken at the turn of the last century show it has lost much of its height since that time, and a great deal of the protective limestone has fallen off. The ruins and their surrounding are overgrown with vegetation, and the fence intended to protect it has been damaged by vandals. The structure needs to be stabilized, and the surrounding area requires regular maintenance. (The site would also benefit from a historical marker to tell park visitors what the structure once was, and what still lies at its center: mile marker zero, the symbolic birthplace of Duluth.)

Chances for survival: Questionable. After nearly 130 years of neglect, this building is, remarkably, still standing—a testament to the masonry skills of Adam Dopp. But if left untended it will eventually collapse. While it was placed on the National Register of Historic Building in 1974, to our knowledge there is no group actively working to preserve the ruins. According to Duluth Parks Division Manager Kathy Bergen, since the ruins are technically on federal land (the U.S. Government commissioned the light and oversaw its operation), the city has no plans to bolster the ruins or maintain the surrounding area.

Scroll down for aerial views showing the ruins’ location.

This is the first installment in a five-part series.

Read the entire story here. Click on the titles below to read each separate part.

Part 2: Upper 100 Block of West 4th Street

Part 3: Temple Opera Block

Part 4: Carter Hotel

Part 5: St. Peter’s Catholic Church


Image: Google Maps
Image: Google Maps

7 Responses to Duluth’s Most Endangered Buildings, Part 1: Minnesota Point Lighthouse

  1. Thanks for the note, Grant! I’ve always thought the MN Point Light was the first on Lake Superior

  2. I surely hope this old Lighthouse is saved. It follows the Rock Harbor Lighthouse as the second oldest original Lighthouse on Lake Superior. Rock Harbor was completed in 1855. Tom Holden says the Lighthouses at Copper Harbor and Whitefish Point were built in the 1840’s, but those original lighthouses have been replaced by more recent structures.

  3. It’s truly sad to have watched the disintegration of the the old Minnesota Point lighthouse. I’ve hiked the end of the Point many times over the 41 years I’ve lived on the sand spit. The importance of the lighthouse has often been discussed with fellow Pointers. It’s unfortunate that both the lighthouse and buoy storage facility have been left to decay.

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