Chequamegon Point Light Seeing The Light

Western tip of 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. 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 $7,500 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.

Click to view enlarged imageSince 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 mark the full extremity of the south shore of the passage leading to Ashland at the south end of Chequamegon Bay. Estimating that the erection of an iron beacon typical of those installed on pier heads around the lakes would allow the structure to be built for $2,500, the Board requested a total appropriation of $10,000 for the full improvements at Long Island. Congress was slow to respond, and the Board reiterated its request in each of its annual reports for the following four years until Congress finally responded favorably with the requested appropriation on March 2, 1895.

On receipt of the appropriation, the Eleventh District Inspector immediately began negotiations for the purchase of a two sites on the island. One for the new main light some 3,000 feet to the east of the existing station near the fog signal building and the other at Chequamegon Point for the construction of the small tower and fog bell to mark the point itself. 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 the LaPointe keepers would soon be responsible for two lights and a fog signal, it was also determined that a full-time assistant keeper would need to be assigned to the station to keep up with the workload, and thus additional living quarters would need to added. In an attempt to keep costs within the appropriated amount, it was decided to convert the existing LaPointe lighthouse into a duplex dwelling, since with the construction of the two new lights the old structure would otherwise no longer serve any purpose. To this end, the 1858 LaPointe lighthouse was jacked-up in the summer of 1896, 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 also avoided.

Click to view enlarged imageFour concrete anchoring pads were cast in place at Chequamegon Point, and the skeleton iron tower was erected to the point at which it was ready to receive the light. However, with the appropriated funds exhausted, work was discontinued on both towers on October 3, 1896 to await additional funding. Congress appropriated the additional $1,500 on July 14, 1897, and the AMARANTH returned to Long Island with a work crew soon thereafter, with work assuming a feverish pace throughout the 1897 season of navigation.

With the completion of Chequamegon Point tower, the fixed red Fourth Order lens was removed from the old LaPointe Light and reinstalled in the new tower's lantern on the night of October 11, 1897 without any change in characteristic. Consisting of a white square pyramidal skeleton iron tower surmounted by a square watchroom and octagonal black lantern, a fog bell was suspended from an exterior wall of the watchroom, and operated by a Stevens fog bell apparatus housed within the watchroom. A connecting rod attached the apparatus to a hammer which struck the bell once every 20 seconds through an aperture in the wall. Standing 39 feet from the base to the top of the ventilator ball, the light stood with a focal plane of 42 feet and was visible for a distance of 16 miles in clear weather.

Click to view enlarged imageThe LaPointe keepers were now required to walk the mile and a quarter distance between the main LaPointe Light and Chequamegon Point numerous times each day to tend the light and fog bell on the point. To male this walk both easier and safer, large pre-cast concrete blocks with steel reinforcement rods were shipped from the Detroit depot to Long Island in 1903, and installed along the dune ridge running along the center of the island to connect both lights.

By 1911, the shore at Chequamegon Point was becoming significantly eroded by wave action, and fearing that the small iron tower might be undermined and topple, a work crew was dispatched to Long Island to construct three 32-foot long log cribs, which were placed along the northwest side of the point and filled with crushed stone and planked over to serve as a protection for the shore, and stem the erosion.

Click to view enlarged imageLittle changed at the Chequamegon Point Light over the years until both it and the LaPointe Light were fully automated in 1964, and the final crew of Coast Guardsmen to man the station departed. Responsibility for maintenance of the structures was thus transferred to the crew at the Devils Island Light, which remained manned to serve all of the Apostle Islands lights until 1878.

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. Thus, in a single stroke of the pen all of the Coast Guard properties within the park were simultaneously transferred into NPS ownership.

With wave action threatening to undermine the foundation of the Chequamegon Point tower in 1987, the structure was suspended beneath a Coast Guard helicopter and dragged back from the eroding shoreline to its present position. At this time, an ignominious "D9" tower was erected close to the shore and equipped with a green 12 volt solar powered 300 mm acrylic optic, which continues to light Chequamegon Point to this day.

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.

It was 95 degrees that day, and the walk out along the ridge to see the ruins of the old LaPointe Light was difficult going since all remnants of the 1903 concrete pathway were buried beneath the sand and the path was overgrown by stubby evergreens. 

After photographing the ruins of the old dwelling, we were somewhat overheated, and with our time on the island almost over, we made our way back to the dock, and took the Whaler out around Chequamegon Point to photograph the light from offshore.

Finding this Light

At this time, the LaPointe and Chequamegon Point Lights are the only lighthouses in the Apostles which are not open to the public on a regular basis during the summer. However, the island itself is open to the public, and good views of the exteriors of the tower and dwelling can be obtained. 

Thus, a private boat is needed to make landfall on Long Island for all but two weeks of the year when Apostle Island Cruise Service offers landing trips to the island during the two weeks of the annual Keeper of The Light festival in September.

Contact information

Apostle Island Cruise Services
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, 1890 - 1909
Annual reports of the Lighthouse Service, various, 1910 - 1953
Great Lakes Light Lists, various, 1901 - 1977
Annual reports of the Lake Carrier's Association, various, 1906 - 1940
Personal observation made on Long Island during visit in July, 2002.
Recent photograph courtesy of NPS.
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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