New LaPointe Light station Seeing The Light

Long Island, south of Madeline Island, Wisconsin Home Back

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Historical Information

By the last decade of the nineteenth century, it became clear that the diminutive 34-foot tall tower of the 1858 LaPointe light was no longer serving the needs of maritime traffic passing between Madeline, Stockton and Michigan Island on its way to the busy ore docks in Ashland. Located too far to the west, it was obscured by the southern tip of Madeline Island until vessels were almost on top of it. In 1890 the Lighthouse Board proposed that $10,000 be appropriated to replace the old light with a new 70-foot tall iron tower to be located next to the fog signal building which had been constructed of a mile to the east of the old light in 1891.

Since this new light would be located over a mile from the northwestern tip of Long Island, it was simultaneously proposed that a small light and fog bell be constructed on Chequamegon Point at the northwestern tip of the island to aid vessels rounding the point before heading south into Chequamegon bay for Ashland. Congress was slow to respond to the Board's request, and thus the plea was reiterated in each of the Board's  annual reports for the following four years, until Congress finally responded with the requested appropriation on March 2, 1895.

On receipt of the appropriation, Eleventh District Inspector, Commander William W. Mead began negotiations for the purchase of two parcels of land on the island. One for the new main light some 3,000 feet to the east of the 1859 structure, and 30 feet from the 1891 fog signal building, and the other at Chequamegon Point for the construction of the small tower and fog bell. However, with the letting of contracts for the fabrication and delivery of the iron work for both new structures, it quickly became clear the $10,000 appropriation was insufficient for the task, and an additional $1,500 appropriation was requested.

Click to view enlarged imageSince with the construction of the new lights the LaPointe keepers would be responsible for two lights and a fog signal, it was determined that a full-time assistant keeper would need to be assigned to the station to keep up with the workload, and additional living quarters would need to added. To keep costs within the limits of the appropriation, Eleventh District Engineer, Major Milton B. Adams drew up plans to modify the existing LaPointe lighthouse into a duplex dwelling, since with the the old structure would no longer serve any purpose with the completion of the new lights. To this end, in the summer of 1896 the old LaPointe lighthouse was jacked-up, and a brick basement constructed beneath, and the interior of the structure reconfigured to accommodate two keepers. Amazingly, the light atop the roof was kept in operation throughout the entire reconstruction, and thus the expense of building a temporary tower was avoided.

Click to view enlarged imageThat same season, concrete foundation piers for the new sixty-foot cast-iron tower were poured near the fog signal building, and erection of the tower began. The new tower was built as an 8 foot diameter cast iron central stairway cylinder with four tubular support legs braced between the ground and the watchroom deck. These four legs were in turn braced by horizontal tubular iron cross members diagonally braced with iron bars  equipped with and turnbuckles to maintain rigidity of the structure. The central cylinder itself was made up of individual cast iron segments with flanges on each side, with each side flange bolted to the adjacent segments. With insufficient funds to continue paying the work crew, the worksite was abandoned after erection to the level of the watchroom galley floor.

Click to view enlarged imageCongress finally appropriated the additional $1,500 on July 14, 1897, and the AMARANTH returned to Long Island with a work crew soon thereafter, and work on the island assumed a feverish pace throughout the 1897 season of navigation. With the Chequamegon Point tower brought to completion first, the fixed red Fourth Order lens was removed from the old LaPointe Light and reinstalled in the new beacon on the night of October 11, 1897 without any change in characteristic.

No longer serving any purpose, both the tower and lantern were removed from the old 1859 lighthouse, and the opening in the roof boarded-over and re-shingled. Sewers from both side of the dwelling were laid to the lake shore and a drive well was sunk to the east of the dwelling to provide drinking water to sides of the duplex. The boat house was moved from the south side of the island to the north side where deeper waster was available, two cribs were constructed for the boat landing, and a concrete walk was laid from the new boat house to the modified dwelling. A workshop which had formerly been attached to the dwelling was removed and converted into a woodshed.

Click to view enlarged imageThe crew then turned their attention back to completing the the installation of the circular watchroom and lantern on the main LaPointe light. On completion, the entire structure was given a coat of white paint with the exception of the lantern, which was painted black to help the station serve as a more effective daymark. The lantern was outfitted with a new fixed white Fourth Order Fresnel lens, which by virtue of the tower's location on elevated ground provided the lens with a focal plane of 70 feet and a distance of visibility of 16 miles.

In 1902, the landing dock was extended through the addition of a 13 by 24 foot crib some 20 feet in front of the old dock to which it was connected by a wood bridge. The crib in which the water supply intake for the fog signal was located was also rebuilt to prevent the frequent silting-up experienced with the old intake.

Click to view enlarged imageApril 18, 1925 saw the electrification of the station with the installation of a diesel engine-powered generator. With electrification, the 10-inch steam whistles were removed and replaced with a pair of air-powered Type T diaphone fog signals powered by electrically driven compressors. Concurrent with the installation of these new diaphones, the characteristic of the fog signal was modified to a repeated 30-second cycle consisting of 3-second blasts followed by 27 seconds of silence. Three years later in 1928, a radio beacon was installed at LaPointe, transmitting a characteristic 3-minute cycle of 4-dash groups for 60-seconds followed by 120 seconds of silence during thick weather, and the Fourth Order lens in the main tower was electrified through the installation of a 9,000 candlepower incandescent electric lamp. With electrification, the characteristic of the light was also changed to flashing white, with a 2-second flash followed by 3 seconds of darkness. A small automatic acetylene-powered winter light was also installed on the gallery, to be left in operation during the winter months when the keepers closed the station for the season and departed for the mainland.

Click to view enlarged imageBy the 1930's, it was realized that the modified keepers dwelling located almost a mile from the main LaPointe Light was inconveniently located and no longer served as adequate housing for the Keeper and two assistants assigned to the station. However, with the country in the grips of the Great Depression, the funds for such works were understandably hard to come by. In 1938 as part of the series of Works Progress Administration projects being undertaken across the nation, a work crew arrived on the island and built a large modern three-family dwelling close to the LaPointe Light and fog signal, permitting a more efficient grouping of the structures constituting the station. No longer serving any purpose, everything of value was removed from the old keepers dwelling and the old 1859 building was abandoned. Without maintenance, the structure quickly deteriorated, with the upper floors caving in, eventually leaving only parts of the brick basement walls erected in 1897 standing as witness to the fact that a building of historical significance ever stood on the spot.

Both the Chequamegon and LaPointe Lights were fully automated in 1964, and the final crew of Coast Guardsmen to man the station departed, leaving the maintenance of the structures to the crew at the Devils Island Light which remained manned to serve all of the Apostle Islands lights until 1978.

Click to view enlarged imageAlthough the formation of the Apostles Island National Lakeshore on September 26, 1970 assured the long-term survival of the remaining Apostle Islands lighthouses, Long Island was not included as part of the National Lakeshore until 1986, when the Park boundaries were expanded to include Long Island and Congress passed legislation transferring all lands within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Park boundaries over to the NPS, and in a single stroke of the pen all of the Coast Guard properties within the park were simultaneously moved into NPS ownership.

Since Long Island was the last of the Apostle to be added to the National Lakeshore, little has been done to the LaPointe station beyond basic stabilization. However, the National Park has plans to begin restoration of both structures, and it is hoped that they will be maintained for future generations to enjoy long into the next century.

Keepers of this Light

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

Seeing this Light

For five days in July, 2002, we were privileged to serve as NPS volunteers, assisting Park Historian Bob Mackreth in documenting the condition of all the Apostle Islands Lights, and visited Long Island in a Boston Whaler on the afternoon of our first day in the Apostles after spending the morning on Outer Island.

After tying up at the dock in front of the station, we walked up the overgrown pathway to the station. The LaPointe Light is the only one of the Apostle Islands Lights that is not open to the public during summer hours, and as such the tower is not generally open to the public. Since the light still serves as an active aid to navigation, the door was secured with a double padlock mechanism, containing both NPS and Coast Guard padlocks. On entering the central tower cylinder, we we immediately noticed the individual cast iron segments which were bolted together to form the walls of the cylinder. We were impressed with the common sense engineering represented by this design, as it would have made shipment and unloading of the components at the site relatively easy, as opposed to having to ship and unload large fully cylindrical segments.

As a result of the 95 degree heat on the day we visited, the temperature within the stair cylinder was oppressively hot, and we appreciated the cool breeze as we stepped out onto the gallery to gain an impressive view the island. Looking down from the tower, we could see the concrete foundation of the old fog signal building, which was razed at the time of the station's automation.

Finding this Light

At this time, the LaPointe Light is the only station in the Apostles which is not open to the public on a regular basis. However, the island itself is open to the public, and good views of the exteriors of the tower and dwelling can be obtained. A private boat is needed to make landfall on Long Island for all but two weeks of the year. While Apostle Island Cruise Service offers daily trips around the islands, passing close to the island for photography, it is only during the two weeks of the annual Keeper of The Light festival in September that they offer landings on Long Island. 

Contact information

Apostle Island Cruise Services may be contacted at the following address:

P.O. Box 691 - City Dock
Bayfield, WI 54814
Telephone: (800) 323-7619

For information on the Keeper Of The Light Celebration, contact:
PO Box 990 19 Front St. 
Bayfield, WI 54814
Telephone: (800) 779-4487

Historical references

Annual reports of the lighthouse Board, various, 1853 - 1909
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Service, various, 1910 - 1953
Great Lakes Light Lists, various, 1861 - 1977
Annual reports of the Lake Carrier's Association, various, 1906 - 1940
Personal observations made during our trip to Long Island in July, 2001.
Recent photograph courtesy of the NPS Historian's office.
Historic photographs courtesy of the USCG and NPS historians offices.
Email correspondence with Bob Mackreth NPS, various, January & February 2002
Keeper listings for this light appear courtesy of Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

This page last updated 12/02/2007

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