Duluth North Pierhead Light Seeing The Light

Duluth, Minnesota Home Back

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Historical Information

Click to view enlarged image Although the South Breakwater light had served to guide vessels into the Duluth Shipping Canal since 1874, the canal itself was only three-hundred feet wide, and making way between the two protective piers was exceedingly difficult under the darkness of night or in the thick fogs that frequently blanketed the area. To make matters worse, the north pier was located so close to the shore that any vessel misjudging the width of the channel stood a good chance of ending up on the rocky shore to the north of the pier. After the Lake Carrier's Association's repeated requests for a light to mark the end of the north pier went unheeded, the Association took matters into its own hands with the installation of a temporary light at the outer end of the north pier in 1908.

Click to view enlarged imageThe Association's action evidently provided the necessary impetus for the  Lighthouse Board to recommend an appropriation of $4,000 for the construction of a permanent government aid to navigation at the outer end of the pier in its 1908 annual report. With accompanying pressure from the Lake Carrier's Association, Congress appropriated the requested funds on March 4, 1909. In uncharacteristic urgency, under the direction of Eleventh District Engineer Major Charles Keller, the plans for the PÍche Island lighthouse were quickly modified for use on the Duluth pier, contracts were awarded, and materials delivered at the Detroit depot by fall of that same year. Work on the pier also started that fall, and after a break in the action as winter's icy grip took over the pier, continued at the opening of navigation in 1910.

Click to view enlarged imageOver the following months, a beautiful iron tower took shape on the concrete pierhead. Standing 36 feet tall from base to ventilator ball, the tower measured ten and a half feet in diameter at the base, gracefully tapering to a diameter of 8 feet at the gallery, which was supported by a series of gracefully curving cast-iron corbels. Centered on the gallery, an octagonal cast-iron lantern with vertical astragals contained a Fifth Order Fresnel lens manufactured by Henry-Lepaute of Paris in 1881. The lens was to be illuminated by a 210-candlepower incandescent electric lamp, with power supplied by the Duluth Electric Utility. Equipped with an electromechanical flashing mechanism, the light would display an isophase characteristic repeating 4-second cycle consisting of 2-seconds of light followed by two-seconds of darkness. The tower's location atop the concrete pier provide the lens with a focal plane of 46 feet, and a range of visibility of 11 miles under clear conditions.

With work complete, the new light was exhibited for the first time on the night of April 7, 1910, and the light has been faithfully serving maritime interests entering and departing Duluth Harbor since that date.

Keepers of this Light

Click here to see a complete listing of all keepers of the Duluth Light compiled by Phyllis L. Tag of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research.

Seeing these Lights


As is the case with both of the piers lining the canal, the North pier was easy to find, and we walked its length a number of times during our stay in this surprising city.

Click to view enlarged imageWe were particularly moved by an inconspicuous bronze plaque mounted to the wall of the North breakwater. This simple plaque could have easily been overlooked, but fortunately caught our eye as we sat on the wall to rest. Please click on the image to the right to view a larger image, and read about Edgar Culbertson's selfless heroism.

While on the North pier, we visited the Canal Park Maritime Museum, which is run by the Army Corps of Engineers, and located tight against the lift bridge. We found this to be a fascinating museum, with various displays relating to Great Lakes shipping history, and highly recommend including a visit during any visit to Duluth. Museum hours vary by season. Summer hours generally are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; Spring and Fall hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, and Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more information, call the museum at (218) 727-2497

Finding this Light


Hwy 61 slices through Duluth parallel to the lakeshore. All three Duluth lighthouses are located on piers protecting the canal through a long sand bar which protects the Port of  Duluth, and are all located in an area known as Canal Park, which is well signed. From Hwy 61, take Canal Park Drive into Canal Park drive, and find a place to park. The North Pierhead Light is located at the end of the pier on the North side of the canal, and both South lights are (naturally) located on the South side of the canal, which can be reached by walking across the lift bridge. If the horn sounds followed by a message to "clear the bridge" is heard, be sure to get off the bridge quickly, as they do not give.

Reference Sources


Annual reports of the Lighthouse Board, 1907 through 1913
Annual report of the Lake Carriers Association, 1909
Great Lakes Light Lists, 1924 - 1953
Inventory of Historic Light Stations, National Parks Service, 1994.
The Northern Lights, Charles K. Hyde, 1995
Personal visit to Duluth Harbor on 09/06/1999
Photographs courtesy Jeff Laser of TOOT.
Historic postcard from author's collection.
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research


This page last updated 12/07/2003

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