Eagle Harbor Lighthouse has been around for over 160 years. Originally built in 1851, the lighthouse’s wooden design slowly fell apart. In 1871, 20 years later, the lighthouse was rebuilt with a more efficient and sustainable design.
John Griswold was the very first Lighthouse Keeper. Records show he began his duties there on October 25, 1850, long before the opening in 1851. In 1859, Griswold transferred to another light station in Eagle River where he died in 1861.
The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Board was established in 1852. The Board consisted of 9 members, all of which ranged from scientists to Navy Officers to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Board’s first priority was to upgrade the Lewis Lamps to French Fresnel lenses.
Five other Keepers had maintained the station before Peter C. Bird became the Light Keeper on August 12, 1865. As a Civil War veteran, Bird had suffered a horrible leg injury at the battle of Gettysburg. It was common back then for disabled veterans to be given Keeper positions as a ‘thank you’ for their service. Bird’s condition worsened during his time as Keeper, and so he was removed from his position on November 17, 1874. Peter’s brother George Bird took over as an Acting Keeper until November 17, 1876, when he was given the full position. Moreover, disappointingly, quit sometime in the following July.
Eagle Harbor became a difficult place for visibility for ships coming in so, in 1889, the Lighthouse Board requested $5,000 for a fog signal to be built. Congress ignored this request for 6 years until the funds were approved on March 2, 1895. Eleventh District Engineer, Major Milton B. Adams, was appointed to construct the fog signal. Construction began in September with Adams and his men making quick work to finish by November. William Rohrig was hired as an assistant keeper on November 11, 1895. Just in time for the fog signal’s official activation on November 30, 1895. In 1907, Keeper John Nolen and Assistant Claude Burrows shoveled 43 tons of coal into the fog signal’s boilers to keep the signal screaming its warning for a record of 544 hours.
Eagle Harbor Lighthouse is now owned and maintained by the Keweenaw County Historical Society. The building is open to the world from June to October. Adult admission is $5 while the kids get in free!