Two Harbors Light Station

The Lighthouse Tower and Keepers dwelling.

With the opening of Minnesota’s first commercial iron mine the Minnesota Iron Company's Duluth & Iron Range Railroad began rail and shipping operations  in 1884. The first shipment of iron ore was loaded on August 19th & 20th 1884, totaling about 6ooo tons. By 1885 roughly 225,000 tons of ore were moving through Agate Bay prompting the Vessel Owners Association and the US Lighthouse Service to recognize the need for a navigational aid at Agate Bay. On August 4th 1886 the US Congress authorized $10,000 to build a light station at Agate Bay. The facility would include a fog signal and keepers quarters as well. The perfect location was the rocky promenade on the east side of the bay, however it would take the threat of imminent domain from Minnesota’s governor before Thomas Feigh would sell his one acre plot.

Beginning in July of 1891 six hundred tons of rock were blasted out of the bedrock to form the foundation for the new light station. The keepers quarters and the light tower would be connected yet separate structures. The keepers quarters would be built two bricks thick while the tower was three bricks thick. The thick walls where the two structures come together is a safety measure to protect the keepers family in the event of a fire or explosion. By 1892 standards it was a very modern structure complete with a rain water collection system and a cistern in the basement to provide the family with fresh water.

The business end of a light station is the light tower. As you make your way up the tower you pass through several landings, these served as work stations. First there is the Cleaning and Wicking Room where the lanterns were refueled and trimmed. Next comes the Watch Room with it’s four portholes. On the top is the Lantern Gallery. The Lantern Gallery is 43’-6” high, but when coupled with the location on the shoreline the lantern sits 78 feet above the water. The fog signal was originally fitted with steam whistles. The Assistant Keepers Quarters (1894) began life as the Barn and Construction Crew Quarters.

Two Harbors Light Station Timeline:

  • Light first lit April 15 1892, a continuous white beacon in all directions
  • In order to help distinguish it from other lights on shore the original Fresnel lens is replaced with a four bulls eye lens and clockworks (rotating mechanism) creating a signature flash. As more electric lighting appeared on shore red screens were placed in the gallery to further distinguish the light signal.
  • In 1921 the light is electrified drastically changing the Keepers duties.
  • Two of the four bulls eyes are removed creating the flash signature still in use today;.4 sec flash 4.6 sec dark, .4 sec flash 14.6 sec darkness.
  • 1923 The fog signal steam whistles are replaced with the twin diaphonic horns. They played an octave F chord.
  • 1938 the U.S. Lighthouse Service is incorporated into the U. S. Coast Guard.
  • 1941 The radio beacon is installed. When used in concert with the fog signal this was a direction and distance finding device.
  • 1969 The Coast Guard replaced the Fresnel lens with the twin 1000 watt Aerobeacon.
  • 1981 The Coast Guard fully automated the light station eliminating the need for a keeper in residence. The Lake County Historical Society is allowed to lease the property and provide tours.
  • 1999 Through an act of Congress the Light Station is given to the Lake County Historical Society. The Society opens the  Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast as a means to generate funds to maintain the facility.

The Two Harbors Light Station is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on Minnesota's North Shore. It is a privately owned aid to navigation. This means the Society is responsible for the care and maintenance of the light. It costs $188 per month (2014) in electricity to operate the twin areobeacons. Each of the 1000w lamps are $120 and are replaced, on average, six times per year. Today the light is maintained by a group of volunteer Light Keepers that service the equipment monthly.

In 2010 the Lake County Historical Society received a grant from the Department of Natural Resource’s Lake Superior Coastal Program to develop new exhibits at the Light Station. This project is made possible from the NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management through the MN Department of Natural Resource’s Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program.

Watch the short tower tour video.