Digest>Archives> April 1998

The Rock's Sister Lighthouse

By Timothy Harrison


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The Two Harbors Lighthouse from what appears to ...
Photo by: Courtesy of the National Archives

While many tourists to the area visit Minnesota's famous Split Rock Lighthouse, many make the mistake of forgetting to stop at the nearby wonderful Two Harbors Lighthouse. The Lake County Historical Society, the group that runs the lighthouse hopes to change that.

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Lightkeeper Charles Lederle (1892-1911) is shown ...
Photo by: Courtesy of Lake County Historical Society

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The fog signal station at Two Harbors Lighthouses.
Photo by: Courtesy of the National Archives

Last year, nearly 12,000 visitors visited the lighthouse. This is not nearly enough to help defray the cost of some major restoration that the lighthouse now needs.

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Lightkeeper Alexander Mclean with his wife.
Photo by: Courtesy of Lake County Historical Society

Two Harbors, Minnesota was incorporated as a village in 1887 deriving its name from its two harbors, Agate Bay and Burlington Bay. Prior to that, the area was simply known as Agate Bay. It has been those two bays and Lake Superior itself which created the growth of the area and eventually the need for the lighthouse. The red brick lightstation was constructed in 1892. The shipping industry flourished here and the main street of the city was once called, "Whiskey Row," which extended from the coal docks to the lighthouse. On "Whiskey Row" there were 22 saloons and dance halls.

Today, Two Harbors is much different than the mining range town of yesteryear. And the lighthouse is also different. Automated in the 1960's, it lost its fourth order lens in the 70's to a modern airport style beacon. However, Coast Guard families continued to live in the keepers house until the late 1980's, when they decided it was too expensive to maintain the property.

Gone are the sounds of children laughing as they play, dinner around the table, and all other sounds of family life. But there are still many recorded memories of what life was like there.

Verna and Merle Driver remembered many of those times in a 1989 newspaper interview. Their father, Herbert, took over as an assistant keeper in Two Harbors in 1935. Verna remembered that her father was offered a job at Split Rock Lighthouse but turned it down to go to Two Harbors, where he said life would be better for the family. Verna and Merle said life was good at the station. They spent a lot of time in the water and loved to fish.

They remembered the supply boat which would dock along side the breakwater and send the supplies up the tramway, which is now long since gone. Verna said, "Today's modern fog signal is a whimp compared to the one that was there. We couldn't even keep plants on the window sills."

When their father retired in 1951, he bought a house nearby where, from his bedroom window, he could still see the lighthouse and "sort of keep an eye on things."

Fran Carpenter Platske was another one who grew up at the lighthouse while her father was an assistant keeper, who served under Head Keeper Anderson. She remembered, in a 1991 interview, life at the lighthouse, especially, the swing that her father made for her. She said she would sit on it and sing to the tourists who would toss her pennies and nickels.

She remembered her father used to make quilts and blankets out of discarded materials, some of which might have been from uniforms. She remembered how one year her father made a blanket from Bull Duram sacks, (since he smoked Bull Duram). He washed them all up and interwove them and won a ribbon for it at the County Fair.

Christmas time at the lighthouse was among her fondest memories. "Christmas time, lights on the tree, those were the days when they had tin foil reflectors and I can still see their brilliant colors sparkling when the lights were turned on. Dad had an old stuffed carrot and it was a ritual every year that he was the one who hung the carrot. That carrot lasted for years and years and years, until it just finally fell apart."

Then she recalled the large pine tree by the old tool shed. She remembered the day her father planted it and told her, "Now, if you eat real good, we'll see if you can keep up with this tree and we'll see which one grows the fastest."

"Evidently," she said, "I was a finicky eater."

She also remembered that she was not allowed to go to the Head Keepers House. She was supposed to stay in her own yard. "One year, however, I decided to take my little tricycle and ride over to the fog signal building where the tourists and my father were. Dad always started the fog signal when the tourists were there and they were always to stand on this platform, where the flag was at that time. Those poor people, they never realized what a loud blast came out of that horn until you were right up close to it. This particular time, I was on my tricycle and the horn started blowing and I lost my balance and ran off the sidewalk and landed face down on the rocks. And, of course, all these people came running to me to ask me if I was all right. I couldn't respond because my breath had been knocked out of me. I will never forget that experience of not being able to breath. Well, here I am, so you know I survived."

Along with the historical significance of the station, these are the types of memories that the Lake County Historical Society wants to keep alive.

But the old station is showing its age. The existing steam boiler needs to be repaired, all windows have rotted and need to be replaced, and worse yet, the exterior brick is beginning to crumble.

The historical society is converting the old fog signal building into a coffee/gift shop, however profits from this will only slightly help.

So they have formed a group called "HUSTLE"- Help Us Save The Lighthouse Everyone, to raise funds for the lighthouse. Plans call for a variety of fund raising ideas such as the school program to "Bring a Shiny Penny to Keep the Light Shining," spaghetti dinners, raffles etc.

Buy a shirt and help save the light

As part of the fund raising efforts the group is also selling sweatshirts and tee-shirts with a photo of the lighthouse that say, "I helped save the Two Harbors Lighthouse." Sweatshirts are $29.95 plus $4.95 shipping and Tee Shirts are $19.95 plus $3.95 shipping. Be sure to specify size when ordering from Lake County Historical Society, P.O. Box 313, Two Harbors, MN 55616.

If you would like to make a donation to Two Harbors Lighthouse or join the society, you may contact them at Lake County Historical Society, P.O. Box 313, Two Harbors, MN 55616. Membership dues are $10 for student and seniors; $15 for individual; $25 for family membership; and $40 as a Friend.

This story appeared in the April 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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