March 30, 2014

Bringing to light the story of historic local structure

Lighthouses evoke strong emotions.

Because of its important location, value to navigation and historic nature, the old stone lighthouse at Split Rock in Essex has a story proudly told along the lake.

A lesser-known story has unfolded in the shadow of the old lighthouse and that story may be coming to a close.

In the 1920s, the United States Lighthouse Service, an agency that oversaw all U.S. lighthouses, authorized a steel tower to replace the manned lighthouse at Split Rock. In 1928, a metal tower was transported to the site by boat, erected and put into service.

During the 1930s, the U.S. Lighthouse Service merged with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“The replacement skeletal tower deteriorated over the years, and a plan was set in motion between the Coast Guard and the owner to transfer the light from the steel tower back to the limestone tower,” according to “This dream was realized on March 19, 2003, when after seventy years of darkness, a light once again beamed from (the older) Split Rock Lighthouse.”

Moving the light back to the old lighthouse made the metal structure obsolete.

In a press release in January 2014, the Coast Guard announced that they were considering demolishing or removing the metal tower at Split Rock as well as the similar tower at Isle La Motte. The reasons cited are understandable: “Both towers are of an obsolete design that does not meet current Coast Guard requirements for aids to navigation structures and are unsafe for Coast Guard personnel to climb for maintenance. Both towers present a safety hazard to persons on adjacent private properties and both towers present an environmental hazard due to deteriorating paint. Neither of the towers is an active aid to navigation.”

At Split Rock, the Heurich family has owned the stone lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s dwelling since the 1950s.

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