Raspberry Island Lighthouse Seeing The Light

Raspberry Island, off Bayfield, Wisconsin Home Back

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Historical Information

As the volume of maritime commerce increased through the late 1850's, the maritime community united to request the placement of a light at the western end of the Apostles to serve as a guide for vessels out of Duluth attempting to thread their way through the islands on their way to the ports of Bayfield and Ashland. Sitting 1 miles off the mainland, and at a diminutive mile in length, and mile in width at its widest point, Raspberry Island was one of the smallest of the islands in the archipelago. However, its was deemed to be the natural location for the Apostles second lighthouse, since a light on the bluff at the southwest point of the island would serve double duty by showing the way to westbound vessels passing Bayfield, and guiding eastbound vessels between Bear and York Islands, and into the channel around the mainland to Bayfield. LaPointe and Ashland below.

Click to view enlarged imageCongress appropriated $6,000 for constructing the station on March 3, 1859, and a work crew was dispatched to begin construction on the island during the 1862 navigation season. Work continued through year until winter's ravages made continuation impossible, and resumed the following spring. The new structure consisted of a two story, single family wooden frame dwelling with a short square wood tower located at the center of the roof apex. Access to the tower was through a set of steps through the attic located at the top of the second floor landing. Atop the tower, a copper-covered wooden gallery was constructed with a decagonal cast iron lantern installed at its center. The district lampist arrived at the station to install the station's Fifth Order Fresnel, and carefully adjusted the clockwork rotational mechanism to ensure that the lens rotated at the precise speed to exhibit the station's chosen characteristic of a fixed white light varied by a white flash every 90 seconds. The lens stood at a point twenty-seven feet above the building's foundation, and by virtue of its location atop the bluff boasted a 77 foot focal plane, affording a visible range of 15 miles in clear weather.

Click to view enlarged imageWork was close to completion in July, and appointed as Raspberry Island Light Station's first Keeper, Andrew Cramer arrived on July 11, and set about moving his family and their worldly belongings into the freshly painted dwelling. Cramer climbed the tower stairs to exhibit the station's light for the first time on the evening of July 20, 1863. Evidently Cramer was not suited for the life of an island keeper, as he was removed from the position on October 16 of that same year, to be replaced by William J. Herbert.

Click to view enlarged imageA work party arrived on Raspberry Island in 1868 to quarry stone to place around the base of the LaPointe Light on Long Island, which was in danger of toppling as a result of the sand being blown away from the foundation. Also in this year, it was determined that the interior plaster work in the Raspberry Island dwelling was cracking and peeling badly, and the Lighthouse Board recommended that funds be allocated to allow a complete re-plastering and painting. At this time it was also recommended that a boat dock be constructed, along with steps leading the forty foot bluff to the station. This work was accomplished the following year, making trips to and from the island much simpler for then Keeper Lewis Larson.

After implementations of steam operated fog signals in a number of stations on the Lakes, the Lighthouse Board recommended that such a signal be erected at Raspberry Island in its 1881 report.

Click to view enlarged imageIn the early hours of September 13th, 1887, Francis Jacker was serving alone at the station and became aware of a strong west wind kicking up. Realizing that the station boat was anchored near the dock, and thus in danger of being blown away, he decided to sail the boat around the lea side of the point. As Jacker pulled the anchor, the wind picked up to gale proportions, and he was unable to control the boat, and found himself being pushed away from the island to crash onto the rocky shore of Oak Island to the east. Dressed in light clothes, Jacker huddled cold and without food for three days as the wind blew, and watched his boat being smashed repeatedly against the rocks. Jacker knew that without an assistant back at the station, the light would have run out of fuel by the first morning, and he was faced with the dual worry of possibly dying of exposure on Oak Island, or being severely disciplined for allowing his light to burn out. As luck would have it, Jacker's wife was delivered to Raspberry Island on the 15th, and finding Jacker was absent, managed to re-light the lamp, but could not figure out how to get the clockwork rotational mechanism operating. Fortunately, an Indian passing Oak Island saw Jacker's furtive waves, and delivered him to the light station, where Jacker and his wife no doubt had an emotional reuniting. Jacker reported the incident to the District Inspector, and rather than finding himself in the deep trouble he feared, was rewarded by official permission to hire his son Edward as his assistant on December 1.

Click to view enlarged imageThe lighthouse tender AMARANTH arrived at the station with a work party and materials for the construction of a new landing, boat house, stairway up the face of the bluff, and the laying of 327 feet of wood-planked walkways. The district Lampist also arrived to install new bearings in the lamp and make adjustments to allow faster rotation of the lamp to change the characteristic to a fixed white light varied by a flash every minute. The lens was also equipped with an improved kerosene-powered lamp, which afforded the light a 350 candlepower fixed light with a 100,000 candlepower flash, which increased its range of visibility to 16 miles..

Click to view enlarged imageWith the dawn of the new century, major changes were underway at the station. The landing was again replaced and extended in 1901. 1902 saw the installation of 120-feet of sewer pipes, and 50 feet of drain tile around the kitchen. Storm houses were built at the front and rear entrances, and work on the construction of a brick fog signal to the east of the dwelling was begun. A combination cast concrete stair and tramway was built up the bluff to the fog signal to allow the transportation of building materials, supplies, and the tons of coal that would be consumed by the steam engines which would be installed to power the duplicate fog whistles. Contracts for the boilers and whistles were let, and a brick oil house of 360 gallons capacity was built at the eastern end of the fog signal building. The lighthouse tender AMARANTH delivered the boilers, plumbing and mechanical equipment for the fog signals were delivered in 1903, and the fog signal declared ready for operation on September 1 of that year. With the significant increase in workload represented by the activation of the fog signal, Keeper Charles Hendrickson was given permission to hire a 2nd Assistant to work with he and 1st Assistant Henry Baker. To this end, Robert Davenport was appointed to the position, and reported for duty on November 8.

Click to view enlarged imageWith three keepers assigned to the station, over 1906 and 1907, the main lighthouse building was significantly modified and enlarged to create a true duplex dwelling. When complete, little of the old structure remained, other than some inner foundation walls and the short tower atop the roof. A small wood-framed 2nd Assistant's cottage was also built next to the barn to the rear of the station.

The station was electrified in 1928 through the installation of a 23 kilowatt diesel driven electric generator in the fog signal building. The steam engines and whistles were replaced with a pair of Type T diaphone fog signals operated by twin diesel powered air compressors in 1933..

Click to view enlarged imageFinally, in 1952, the light was automated through the installation of a series of batteries in the fog signal to power a low voltage light on a squat pole in front of the old lighthouse. The station's Fifth Order Fresnel was removed from the lantern, and was disassembled for placement into storage. At some time thereafter, the lens was placed on display in the Madeline Island Historical Museum, where it remains on display to this day. The old battery system in the fog signal building was subsequently replaced by a solar powered 300 mm acrylic optic atop the pole, which continues to light the island to this day.

Over the final decades of the twentieth century, the rate of bluff erosion in front of Raspberry and Outer Islands increased dramatically, with the station buildings being many feet closer to the edge of the bluff than when they were built. Fearing that if left unchecked, these historically significant structures would topple into the lake, Congress appropriated funds to reconfigure the bluffs to stem the erosion.

Of the two stations, it was deemed that the erosion situation was most critical at Raspberry Island, and thus work was planned to begin there in the summer of 2002, with work on Outer Island planned for the following years. Click here for a description of the work to be performed, and photographs of the progress during our visit to the island in July of 2002.

Keepers of this Light

Click here to see a complete listing of all Raspberry Island 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. We visited Raspberry Island early in the morning of the fifth day of the trip, and were happy to see that the stabilization of the bluff in front of the fog signal was well underway. Click here to see what was going on with project during our visit.

The Raspberry Island station is one of the few stations remaining with its boathouse intact, and visitors tying up at the dock get a good look at the structure before climbing the concrete combination stairway and tramway which leads up the bluff. The first thing that we noticed when reaching the top of the bluff was the large number of buildings making up the station. In addition to the double dwelling and fog signal building, there is a brick oil house and a wood framed barn, two privy's, a storage shed, and a small assistant keeper's dwelling, which appears to be a duplicate of the assistant's dwelling on St. Helena Island.

Since we were on NPS business, we were able to enter the fog signal, and explored throughout the building. The building is now used as a storage area for the park employees, since all of the old diaphone equipment has long been removed.

Finding this Light

Raspberry Island ins the easiest to visit of all the Apostle Island lights. Having the deepest and most sheltered dock of all the islands, private boats can almost always be assured of a place to tie up for a visit. Apostle Island Cruise Service operates a Raspberry Island Shuttle service which departs from Bayfield at 11.30 am, returning at 3.00pm. The docks at Raspberry Island giving passengers an hour to take a complete Ranger-lead tour of the station. During the annual three week Keeper of The Light Celebration in September, two shuttle trips to Raspberry Island are offered.

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
Email: info@apostleisland.com 

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, 1859 - 1909
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Service, various, 1910 - 1953
Great Lakes Light Lists, various, 1876 - 1977
Annual reports of the Lake Carrier's Association, various, 1906 - 1940
Photograph courtesy of 
Photographs taken by the author in July, 2002. 
Historic and recent photographs courtesy of the Apostle Island Lakeshore.
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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