Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
For many years sailors dreaded the eighty miles of dark shoreline that stretched east from Grand Island Lighthouse to the light on Whitefish Point. Unmarked by any navigational light, these dangerous shores claimed dozens of ships. To fill the gap, a lighthouse was placed on Au Sable Point in 1874. An eighty-seven-foot brick tower was built on a rise, placing the light about 150 feet above Lake Superior's surface. The Third-Order Fresnel Lens displayed a fixed white light. The attached, two-story brick keeper's dwelling was large, but those who lived in it knew theirs was one of the most remote mainland light stations in America. The nearest town, Grand Marais, was more than 12 miles away, and there was no road. Keepers either hiked in or came by boat.
The Coast Guard automated the light in 1958, later turning the property and buildings over to the National Park Service for inclusion in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Although the light remains active, the old Third Order Fresnel Lens has been removed from service and is in the lens room in the light tower. The lighthouse tower, the attached red brick keeper's house and the red brick fog building are still standing. The light is presently powered by solar power.
Directions: Au Sable Point Lighthouse is one of the least accessible mainland light stations in the United States. Just as its keepers once did, visitors today must walk to it, but only 1.5 miles.
To reach the lighthouse, take Alger County Road (H-58) at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for about 12 miles. When you reach the Hurricane River Campground, park near the Hurricane River and take the two track access path to the lighthouse and Lake Superior. Follow this trail to the lighthouse.
Lighthouse Tours: During the summer months a ranger is on duty at the keeper's house to give interpretive tours of both the keeper's house and the light tower.
Summer lighthouse tours are given from July 1st until mid-August, Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 5:30 pm. The grounds are open daily for visitors.
In the 1.5 mile stretch to the lighthouse, you pass the remains of several shipwrecks. These shipwrecks are a sobering reminder of the incredible power of Lake Superior.
The first wreck is the Mary Jarecki, which lies just outside the campground. The Mary Jarecki was a wooden bulk freight steam barge of 645 tons, 200 feet in length. It grounded on Au Sable Reef and went down on July 4, 1883. She lost her way in one of the heavy fogs that frequent the area, and ran into the shallows on the west side of the point. When other boats could not pull her off, they left the ship to be battered by Lake Superior. Her remains are just off shore in Lake Superior and are difficult to see if there is a chop on the lake surface.
Hike further down the trail and another "Shipwrecks" sign will pop up. The signs indicate that two ships hulls are half-buried in the sand.
The first is the Sitka, a 1,740-ton wooden bulk steamer, 272 feet long, 40 feet wide which went down on October 4, 1904. She was downbound from Marquette to Toledo laden with iron ore when she was hit by a gale and driven aground on Au Sable Point. The Grand Marais Lifesavers rescued her crew of 17. The waves soon broke the Sitka in two and she slid off the rock into deep water, and sank in the pounding waves.
The second is the Gale Staples, a wooden bulk freight steamer of 2,197 tons and 277 feet long, launched in 1888 as the steamer William E. Morley. This large steamer was upbound with a cargo of coal when she was hit by a terrific gale on October 1, 1918. The northwest storm blew the freighter on Au Sable Reef, then tore her to pieces. U.S. Life savers took her crew off before she broke up.
As you walk the lakeshore, you are likely to see groups of fishermen near the shore catching their dinner.
Lighthouse Tours: July 1st through mid August, Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 5:30 pm.
Pictured Rocks National
You may also contact the
or the Grand
Marais Chamber of Commerce
Photos of the man on the beach and the men fishing,
courtesy of John T. Davidson