Raspberry Island Lighthouse

Wandering a Wisconsin Lighthouse

Published in the October 2018 Issue December 2021 Feature

The Raspberry Island lighthouse is the most readily accessible of the six Apostle Island stations. During the summer season, Apostle Islands Cruise Service tour boats stop at the island, and National Park Service rangers conduct tours of the historic tower. Close to the mainland, the island is a popular destination for skilled sea kayakers and private boaters who are prepared for the challenges of Lake Superior.

Known as the “Showplace of the Apostle Islands,” the lighthouse was built at the urging of Henry Rice, the influential St. Paul politician who founded the city of Bayfield, Wis. Support from shipping interests added weight to Rice's proposal, and in 1859 President Buchanan signed an order reserving the entire island for lighthouse use.

Construction of the lighthouse began about two years later, and the structure was nearly ready for use by the end of 1862. Only one problem delayed the station's entry into service: the lantern's lens had not yet arrived. The lens was crafted in France and took months to make its way over the ocean and across half a continent. It was not until mid-July of 1863 that the lens was installed and the light station officially began operation.

The lighthouse that entered service during the Civil War appeared substantially different from the structure that stands on Raspberry Island today. While the lighthouse appears much the same as it did in 1906, the surrounding setting has changed substantially. When the lighthouse was built, the surrounding area was cleared of trees so that ships would have a clear view of the beacon. Today, forest has encroached upon the site, and only a portion of the original clearing remains.

More ominously, the bluff in front of the lighthouse has suffered severe erosion. The steep clay banks face the force of Lake Superior at their base, while the upper sections are subject to “slumping,” or collapse. Fortunately, Congress has acted to protect the historic treasure as funds were appropriated to institute erosion control measures. (www.lighthousefriends.com)


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