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The Split Rock Lighthouse is now maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society. Guided tours, an interpretive center and museum and hiking trails are features of the site. Photos courtesy of Lee Radzak, historic site manager

Split Rock Lighthouse: Celebrating 100 years of guiding light

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Early in the 20th century, iron ore shipping on Lake Superior became a huge enterprise - and a dangerous occupation.

A storm on Nov. 28, 1905, damaged 29 ships, including two ore carriers, which foundered on the rocky North Shore coastline between Two Harbors and Silver Bay, Minn.

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A delegation descended on Washington, D.C., and in early 1907, Congress appropriated $75,000 for a lighthouse and fog signal in the vicinity of Split Rock, Minn.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service completed the 7.6-acre light station in 1910 and operated it until 1939, when the U.S. Coast Guard took command. After 1924, when the Lake Superior International Highway was built along the North Shore, eventually connecting all of the shoreline from Duluth to Canada, Split Rock's picturesque setting made it a frequently visited destination.

The station closed in 1969 when modern navigational equipment made it obsolete. The state of Minnesota obtained the scenic landmark in 1971. In 1976, administrative responsibility for the Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site was given to the Minnesota Historical Society, which restored the lighthouse and maintains the station as it was during the 1920s. According to Historical Society records, more than 120,000 people tour the lighthouse and keeper's home each year.

To celebrate the lighthouse's 100th anniversary, the Historical Society has scheduled special events and activities throughout 2010.

"Split Rock Lighthouse is one of Minnesota's signature places and one of the most exciting historical destinations in the state," said Minnesota Historical Society Director Nina Archabal. "It's a crown jewel of the Society's historic sites program."

The celebration will begin at 2 p.m. Jan. 8 at the light station with the unveiling of an original commemorative watercolor painting by Minnesota artist Jim Povich. Povich will be available to meet visitors, and first edition posters of the painting will be for sale.

On May 1, the Centennial Summer Celebration will kick off with an afternoon of family activities at the History Center in Saint Paul. A re-enactor will debut the character Orren Young, the first Split Rock Lighthouse keeper.

The first Friday evening of each month through the summer and fall will feature special programs and performances at the lighthouse itself.

The Visitor Center also provides information on the history of the light station, the North Shore and Lake Superior shipping.

For details, go to www.mnhs.org/splitrock where Historic Site Manager Lee Radzak's blog can also be found.

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