Gull Rock is a small remote island 2 and 1/2 miles off the Michigan shoreline in central Lake Superior. The half-acre island is made up of conglomerate rock, with little or no topsoil, and it is a favored nesting ground for gulls.

Situated 15 miles east of the small picturesque town of Copper Harbor, Gull Rock is in the geographic confines of Grant Township in Michigan’s wild and scenic Keweenaw Peninsula. Gull Rock has no docking facilities and is only accessible by small boat during calm seas. The nearest improved road is 13 miles away.

Gull Rock’s brick "schoolhouse style" lighthouse was constructed in 1867 with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens and has played an integral role in Lake Superior’s maritime history. Today, the unmanned lighthouse, along with its sister light nearby on Manitou Island, remains an active aid to navigation and is a key landmark highlighting the bend in the shipping lane that connects Duluth, MN to Sault Saint Marie, MI. During fierce storms from the northwest Gull Rock also marks the gateway to safe passage on the leeward side of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, a well-known safe harbor to regional mariners. View a map of the current lighthouses that are active in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Because the Gull Rock Lighthouse lies in the open waters of Lake Superior, it is exposed to the lake’s notorious winds, high waves, bulging winter ice-jams, and the swift current that spills off the tip of the Keweenaw. It is an inaccessible and dangerous place where storm-driven waves occasionally wash over the island’s surface, briefly enveloping the base of the lighthouse in water.

The original construction foreman hired to build Gull Rock in the 1860s died on the job. The rocky shoals near the light station have claimed at least six wrecks since 1892. One of the most recent wrecks in the vicinity of the lighthouse occurred in 1989, when the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mesquite ran aground off the Keweenaw Peninsula.

One of the most dramatic rescues ever to take place in Lake Superior history occurred in the waters near Gull Rock. Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, 1913, hurricane force winds sent a series of large waves over the aft deck of the 450-foot freighter L.C. Waldo, tearing away her pilothouse, damaging her steering gear, and eventually driving her up on Gull Rock’s shoals. Just months before, the federal government automated Gull Rock Lighthouse, so it was unmanned at the time of the Waldo’s beaching. For more than three days 24 people huddled in the ice-entombed forward half of the wreck with little food or heat, as winds howled and waves pounded outside. Rescue teams from two separate life saving stations in Eagle Harbor and Portage, Michigan braved deadly seas to converge on the wreck within hours of each other. The rescuers successfully transported all 22 men, two women, and the ship’s dog to safety. For their valiant effort, the rescuers were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, which remains the U.S. Coast Guard’s highest honor. The 1913 storm that claimed the Waldo is one of the most infamous ever to visit the Great Lakes region. From Minnesota to New York, a total of 10 ships disappeared entirely in that storm (two in Lake Superior) with all hands lost on each vessel. The four-day maelstrom, which was marked by highly unusual hurricane-force winds, also wrecked 26 other ships throughout the Great Lakes.

The Gull Rock Lighthouse’s contribution to Lake Superior’s maritime history was formally recognized on July 19, 1984 when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Time and the elements have been unkind to the Gull Rock Lighthouse. The boathouse and docks have long since washed away. In some areas of the lighthouse’s exterior, 50 percent of the brick has spalled. A large hole (now repaired) existed in the roof for years, exposing the interior of the keeper’s dwelling to at least 30 inches of annual precipitation and winter temperatures that can exceed minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit. Two-thirds of the lighthouse’s second floor has rotted and collapsed and now lies as debris on the first floor. In 1913 the station was automated and the front and back keeper’s dwelling doors were bricked shut. The attached 46-foot tower remains accessible and is in fair condition. The tower’s automated solar-powered modern light is regularly maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard station near Houghton, MI. The dilapidated brick privy is the only other building remaining on Gull Rock and it sits near the water’s edge on the east side of the island.

Questions? Send an email to info@gullrocklightkeepers.org.

This site is still under construction; check back soon for more photos and historical information.

Maps of Lake Superior

Gull Rock Lighthouse at Dusk

Gull Rock Lighthouse Collapsed Floor

Gull Rock Lighthouse Collapsed Floor

 

Photos provided by Jeff Shook and Mike Kohlman

 

 



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