Ruins: Minnesota Point Lighthouse

The Minnesota Point Lighthouse ruins, c. 1900. (Image: Library of Congress)

The Soo Locks on the St. Mary’s River at Sault Ste. Marie opened in 1855, making it possible for larger vessels to enter Lake Superior from Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and opening ship traffic from New York to the Head of the Lakes. Seeing the natural Superior Entry between Minnesota and Wisconsin Points as the best way to enter safe harbor, the federal government commissioned a lighthouse and keeper’s residence at the southern end of Minnesota Point to help mariners find the entry.

The Minnesota Point Lighthouse was placed atop mile marker zero, set there by George Stuntz and used for all surveys mapping Lake Superior. Stuntz, the first non-native to settle on Minnesota Point, operated a trading post near the lighthouse. The tower stood fifty feet tall when it was first built in 1858. German stonemason Adam Dopp used red Ohio brick to construct the tower and the keeper’s home, later coating the tower with a limestone whitewash.

R. H. Barrett, its first keeper, lived with his wife Stella and their four children in the simple house shown at right. When thick fog rendered the light useless, Barrett used his own lungs to blow a warning through a logging camp dinner horn. Local residents called it “Barrett’s Cow.”  Barrett was succeeded by Horace Saxton, J. B. Greenfield, Patrick McCann, G. M. Grover, and Robert Sanborn.

The lighthouse constantly needed repairs; it leaked, and plaster fell off in chunks. The ever-changing sand bar also created a problem: the location of the natural entry shifted; within a year of the tower’s construction, it no longer stood close to the water (today it is about a half mile away). The lighthouse was all but rendered useless in 1871, when Duluth completed the first cut of its ship canal; within the next two years most shipping traffic at the Head of the Lakes came through the Duluth Ship Canal, bypassing the Superior Entry altogether. Because traffic through the Superior Entry became so rare, the federal government shut down the lighthouse on August 6, 1885.

In 1889 a wooden pierhead beacon was built on the north timber pier under construction in the Superior Entry and fitted with the lens from the Minnesota Point light, and the Keeper’s House was refurbished to serve the new Superior Entry Pierhead Light. Unfortunately, that light was destroyed in the Mataafa Storm of 1905. The keeper’s house was abandoned after a new facility was built in Wisconsin in 1895 and torn down soon after. The lighthouse still stands, albeit in ruins. It currently reaches less than thirty feet high and is protected by a broken fence.