The First Keepers
When the first keepers arrived at Split Rock in the summer of 1910, it was a remote and barren place. The few trees that grew on the cliff top were cut down during the construction, so the wind howled constantly.
Because the station was isolated by the lake with no land access, supplies and visitors could come only by boat. Their visits proved to be infrequent. Getting to the lighthouse was so difficult in those early years that some families of the keepers would come only for short visits, leaving for their winter homes when school started. They were joined by the keepers when the station was decommissioned for the annual winter shutdown in December.
The life of the keepers was tough. Through the night the keeper and assistants rotated four-hour watches, and during the day they kept a weather eye out as part of their normal eight hour workday. If the foghorn was sounding, as it did at 20-second intervals when visibility dropped below five or so miles, the men stood the daytime watch in the fog signal building. Because the lighthouse was far from supply depots in Detroit and Duluth, the keepers had to be skilled at repairing as well as operating the equipment. On top of this, the keeper functioned as an administrator, bookkeeper, and once the Lake Superior International Highway opened in 1924, tour guide.
Once the highway was built along the North Shore the lighthouse became more accessible. By the 1930s, the keepers were living with their families at the station through the winter, and children were boarding buses for school in Beaver Bay and Two Harbors. Tourists also took advantage of the new roadway, making the lighthouse a popular destination.
By the early 1930s about 5,000 people visited the light house each year. But by 1938, Keeper Covell estimated "nearly 100,000 visited the station during the season." This gave Split Rock Lighthouse five times as many visitors as any other station in the service. When the Coast Guard absorbed the Lighthouse Service in 1939, it publicized Split Rock Lighthouse as "probably the most visited lighthouse in the United States."
Under the Lighthouse Service, keepers were required to escort any visitor. To handle this growing demand, visiting hours were established and a safety fence was erected along the cliff's edge. In 1935 a new access road to the station was built and in 1942 a gift shop opened. Public interest in Split Rock continued to grow. Today the Minnesota Historical Society operates the light station. In 1986 a new visitor center opened, and in 2010 the light station celebrated its 100 anniversary.
List of the keepers and assistants (PDF).