Duluth’s First Lighthouse

The Minnesota Point Lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling, circa 1870. (Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth)

The Twin Ports’ first lighthouse and a keeper’s house were built on Minnesota Point between 1856 and 1858 for a cost of $13,700, to serve ships using the Superior Entry — at that time the only passage from Lake Superior to the Duluth-Superior harbor. It operated until 1885, when a Superior pierhead light was lit.

The Minnesota Point Lighthouse tower quickly deteriorated after going out of service. In June 1908 the News Tribune reported that “men in the employ of the government” were set to tear it down, though that effort — if it ever began — only shortened the remaining tower. Today about three-quarters of the lighthouse’s 40-foot brick tower remains, a 1¾-mile walk from road’s end on Park Point.

The lighthouse is considered to be the oldest surviving structure in the city “and its location marks the zero point from which all Lake Superior surveys originated,” according to a 2003 city-commissioned study of Park Point.

The remains of the Minnesota Point Lighthouse tower, as seen in 2014. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)

In October 1917, the News Tribune ran an editorial suggesting preservation of the old lighthouse. “There is a heap of sentiment, of romance and of history woven around this landmark,” the paper wrote. “It is all part of the early-day navigation of the lakes. It has guided the forefathers of the great ships of today.

“When communities forget the sentiment and romance of their earlier days, of the struggles of their infancy, they have lost the better part of that spirit which makes them worthwhile, which raises them above the purely sordid and material, giving glimpses of a beyond.”

The old lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Near the remains of the lighthouse tower, the federal government in the early 1900s built a depot that housed oil, lamps and other supplies for Lake Superior lighthouses, and also stored buoys.

Various sources give the construction date as 1905 or 1907. A wharf also was built at the site, along with other accessory buildings. The graffiti-covered concrete depot structure remains standing today.