The red brick Eagle Harbor Light Station sits on the rocky entrance to the harbor and is a working lighthouse as it guides mariners across the northern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The original lighthouse, built in 1851, was replaced in 1871. The octagonal brick light tower is ten feet in diameter, with walls 12 inches thick and it supports a 10-sided cast iron lantern. The Lighthouse was manned by a head keeper and two assistant keepers.
This red brick lighthouse is still standing and is furnished with period furnishings and open to the public from mid-June to early October- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults. Children are free. The lighthouse and museum complex is now owned by the Keweenaw County Historical Society.
The Coast Guard actually maintains the light, but volunteers in Eagle Harbor check constantly to be sure the auxiliary battery is keeping the light shining in case of a power outage.
In 1912 a life saving station began operation across the harbor from the lighthouse. As was often the case, the station and the lighthouse compound shared a common goal-the safety of travelers on the lake. This building has recently been restored.
Eagle Harbor was a very dangerous area for boats entering the harbor. Entrance to this harbor of refuge from Lake Superior is between two rock cribs. The cribs were build in the winter of 1878 and sunk in the spring. A front range light is on the beach and the rear light is 1000' up the hill. This light was originally on a house but both lights are now on metal towers to help guide vessels through the rocky entrance to the harbor. The lights tell the boat's captain where the cribs are, and, by following the lights, the boat can be brought into the harbor safely. Storms on this part of the coast are especially violent as waves come crashing onto the rocks across the open water from Canada.
There is a Maritime Museum containing details of some of the many Keweenaw shipwrecks located in the old fog signal and watch building. Many fascinating shipwreck artifacts and marine exhibits are on display. This fog signal building was built in 1895. The fog signal warned mariners of the rocks and reefs offshore when the light could not be seen. A Boiles Compressor was used to run the steam whistle fog signal. It was replaced in 1978 by green gong buoy presently operating off the east shore.
While on the light station grounds, you will see a rudder recovered from Eagle Harbor in 1971 by diver Kurt Becker of New York state. The ship has not been identified, but the rudder is typical of the rudders used in the 1860's.
The white building, formerly the assistant keepers dwelling, houses a Commercial Fishing Museum. This building and the brown house were originally part of the Life Saving Station on the other side of the harbor and were moved to this location. During WWII, commercial fishermen on Lake Superior were exempt from the draft as they were essential for feeding the nation. Lake Superior fish are still a staple of the northern diet.
The Keweenaw History Museum is in the building at the entrance to the Light Station grounds and contains many copper mining exhibits and memorabilia.
The lighthouse compound also includes a 1927 Chrysler from the 1926 wreck of the City of Bangor.
The wreck of the City of Bangor was one of the most trying and interesting episodes in the life saving station's history. During a late November storm in 1926, the men at the station were notified that a ship, the THOMAS MAYTHAM, was hung up on rocks some 40 miles away. Immediately, the rescue crew set off in their motorized boat and, after braving below-zero temperatures and towering waves, reached the ship and took on its 22 crew members. On the return trip, the lifesaving crew spotted an abandoned ghostly ship so covered with ice and snow that they barely recognized it as a ship. This was the CITY OF BANGOR, which had run hard aground. Her crew had made it to shore but were in grave danger of suffering from exposure. After dropping off the men of the Maytham, the station's crew had to return in another boat to rescue the 29 man crew of the City of Bangor and her unusual cargo, over 200 brand new Chryslers.
Photos: David Martin & Vivian Wood
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