|Point Iroquois Light||Seeing The Light|
Plans for the station were drawn-up and arrangements commenced for the purchase of the selected reservation. Construction began in 1855, and was completed the following year. Consisting of a 45 foot tall rubble stone tower with a wooden lantern deck, the tower was outfitted with a flashing white Fourth Order Fresnel lens. As a result of its location on the highest ground on the Point, the Light had a 63-foot focal plane, and a range of visibility of 10 nautical miles in clear weather. Little is known about the dwelling at this station, however it is likely that it too was of rubble stone construction, and was detached from the tower, as was frequently the case with such stations built at this time. Charles Caldwell, who had served for a year as the assistant keeper at Whitefish Point, was transferred-in as the station's first keeper, and exhibited the light for the first time on the night of June 8, 1856.
It would appear that the materials and workmanship employed during construction were less than desirable, and after only twelve years the District Inspector reported that he found both the tower and dwelling to be in poor condition in 1867, making special note that the wooden lantern deck on the tower was in danger of collapse, and needed to be replaced with a more substantial and durable iron gallery. In his report for the following year, he found the situation had deteriorated even further, and while he ordered some necessary repairs, he went on to state that it was his belief that the only viable remedy for the situation was the complete replacement of both structures. However, feeling unqualified to make such an expensive engineering judgment, he recommended that no decision be made until "the structures are examined by competent persons."
After a visit to the site in 1869, the Eleventh District Engineer concurred with the Inspectors previous observations. Finding that the deterioration of both the tower and dwelling were so advanced that he recommended that no repairs be made beyond those required to make the buildings habitable until both buildings could be replaced, since replacement would be more cost effective than repair in the long run. Estimating that the two new structures could be built for $18,000, the Lighthouse Board recommended that Congress make the necessary appropriation in its annual report for that same year. Congress evidently concurred, since a work party arrived at Point Iroquois with the necessary materials the following spring, and worked throughout the season of navigation building the new tower and dwelling.
With construction drawing to completion in the fall of 1870, the new brick tower stood seventeen feet in diameter at the base, and 50 feet in height from the limestone foundation to the bottom of the iron gallery. A prefabricated cast iron spiral stairway with 72 steps wound within the tower, supported by a hollow central iron column. Capped with a decagonal cast iron lantern housing the Fourth Order Fresnel from the original tower, exhibiting the station's characteristic white flash every 30 seconds. The tower's location atop high ground on the Point provided the lens with a focal plane of 72 feet, and a resulting 15 mile visible range during clear weather. The two-story single family brick keepers dwelling was built over a full basement, and attached to the tower by way of a narrow covered brick walkway to provide the keeper with welcome shelter as he tended the light during foul weather. A wood frame barn and brick outhouse completed the station's complement of buildings.
In order to allow the station to serve during periods of thick weather, a stand-alone bell tower was erected at the station in 1885, with the bell struck by a Stevens automatic bell striking apparatus. However, the bell was not destined to serve long at Iroquois Point, since plans were drawn up to replace it with a pair of 10-inch steam whistles in early 1890. Contracts for the materials for the new fog signal building and machinery were awarded, and the materials delivered to the Detroit lighthouse depot by the supplying contractors. The materials were then loaded onto the lighthouse tender AMARANTH along with a work party and transported up Lake Huron and through the Soo lock to Point Iroquois. Construction of the new fog signal building, and the installation of the steam power plants and whistles was completed that fall. The whistle controls were adjusted to ensure that the whistles conformed to the station's prescribed repeated characteristic of a five-second blast followed my twenty-five seconds of silence, and the new signal was officially placed into service on October 31, 1890. With a significant increase in the workload represented by the new fog signal, James Lasley Jr. was appointed to the position of acting assistant keeper on November 20, moving into the cramped dwelling with head keeper Edward Chambers and his family.
Since the construction of the new station, lamp oil had been stored in a room designated for the purpose in the basement. This had been a wholly acceptable practice when whale oil was used as the primary illuminant, since it was not particularly volatile. However, with the conversion to the more flammable kerosene, a number of fires were experienced in dwellings around the country, and the Lighthouse Board embarked on a project to install stand-alone fireproof oil storage buildings at all stations throughout the system. To this end, a circular prefabricated iron oil storage building was shipped to the station, and erected a safe distance from the dwelling in 1893. No longer serving any purpose, the bell tower was disassembled in 1896, loaded on the lighthouse tender AMARANTH and shipped to Grand Marais, where it's mechanism was in the Front Range Light currently under construction. The following year, 448 feet of new concrete walkways were poured to link the various station buildings, and the landing dock was rebuilt.
1900 saw the replacement of the iron smoke stacks on the fog signal with brick chimneys, both boilers were re-tubed and the barn was replaced. The crew returned the following year, painted the barn, sunk a new well and installed 550 feet of wire fencing. No doubt 1901 was also a memorable year for keeper Joseph Bishop and his assistant Otto Bufe, since they were kept busy feeding 28 tons of coal into the hungry fog signal boilers in order to keep the whistles screaming for a total of 534 hours, an all-time record for the station.
In 1902, Eleventh District Inspector Commander Edward H. Gheen finally took up the interests of the Point Iroquois keepers and their families, who had been shoe-horned into the single family dwelling since the first assistant was assigned to the station after the fog signal was added in 1890. Estimating that a second dwelling could be erected for a cost of $5,000, the Lighthouse Board requested that the necessary appropriation be made in its annual report for that year. Congress turned a deaf ear to the Board's repeated requests for three years until 1905, when the funds were finally approved, and work could proceed. However, rather than building a separate structure as was originally planned, the decision was made to expand the existing structure through the addition of a new wing on the east side of the existing dwelling. A new boathouse was also built and 600 feet of new concrete walks were laid, with the work reaching completion on November 11, 1905.
The station's illuminating apparatus was upgraded from oil wick to incandescent oil vapor on May 3, 1913, with a resulting increase in intensity from 5,600 candlepower to 42,000 candlepower. At the same time, the characteristic of the light was changed by decreasing the duration of the light's flash to 6.7 seconds with a corresponding increase in the duration of the eclipse. Not content with this change, the characteristic was again modified on June 13, 1922 by a further reduction of the light's cycle to only 4 seconds, with a flash of only 0.8 seconds duration.
The 10-inch steam whistles were removed from the fog signal building in 1926, and replaced with a pair of air compressed air operated Type F diaphone fog signals. Twin diesel-powered electrical generators were installed in the fog signal building to provide power for the compressors, and the fog signal characteristic was changed to a repeated cycle consisting of a 2-second blast followed by 28 seconds of silence. The diaphones represented a considerable improvement over the steam whistles, since they were not only louder and easier to maintain, but could be quickly sounded when needed, without having to wait for boilers to build up a head of steam. With the installation of the electrical generators, power was run to the dwelling and the lamp itself, which was replaced with an incandescent electric bulb which boosted the intensity of the light to an impressive 82,000 candlepower.
With improvements in RADAR, radio navigation and LORAN-C in the late 1950's many of the nation's lights quickly became obsolete. After Point Iroquois Lighted Buoy 44 was installed offshore in 1962, the Point Iroquois Light was discontinued. In an event to reduce operating costs, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the station to the U. S. Park Service in 1965, with the property incorporated into the Hiawatha National Forest. No longer serving any purpose, the station's Fourth Order Fresnel was removed from the lantern later that year after more than a century of faithful service to lake Superior mariners. The lens was carefully disassembled and crated-up, and shipped to Washington DC, where it was placed on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
The station buildings were thereafter
leased to the Bay Mills-Brimley Historical Research Society, which
completed a total restoration of the building in 1983. Much of the
station has been converted into an excellent maritime museum, and is
open to visitors from Memorial Day through October 15, and is well worth
There is an excellent display of contemporary photographs of the families that called the station home through the years. The display is one of the most interesting that we have encountered, and serves well to bring the former inhabitants to life. if only for the moment.
At the time of our visit, the entire exterior was being painted, and as
a result the tower was not open to the public. It
took some doing to find vantage points in which scaffolding did not ruin
The museum and tower are open to the public every day from Memorial Day
through October 15. Hours are 10.00am to 5.00pm, seven days a week. On
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they reopen from 7.00pm to 9.00pm.