Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Explore Split Rock’s history via day hikes

Aerial view of Split Rock Lighthouse, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Minnesota’s Split Rock Lighthouse State Park enjoys a rich history that ranges from shipping and mining to Native Americans and modern tourism. Several of the park’s day hiking trails explore this past.

Ojibwa Indians dominated the entire Minnesota North shore beginning in the 1700s. By the mid-1800s, the first white settlers in what is now the state park established a fishing village at Little Two Harbors. Cement foundations of the houses and fish processing buildings are all that remain. The Little Two Harbors Trail heads from the lighthouse to the village ruins.

From 1899-1906, a logging camp was set up at the mouth of the Split Rock River, down shore from Little Two Harbors. A rail line heading into the highlands also was constructed. It can be hiked via the Merrill Logging Trail. The logging camp ruins can be seen on the Corundum Mine Trail.

In 1901, the North Shore Abrasives Company set up shop at Corundum Point after a prospector misidentified the anorthosite there as corundum, which is used as an industrial abrasive. When the company realized it had the wrong rock, operations were abandoned. Cement footings of the company’s building and other relics from the mining operation still can be found at the park, also visible from the Corundum Mine Trail.

A horrible gale in November 1905 damaged 29 of U.S. Steel’s bulk ore carriers on Lake Superior. Two of them were wrecked on the rocky shoreline that now is the state park. The result was construction of Split Rock Lighthouse, which is the park’s main attraction. It became operational in 1910.

After Hwy. 61 was constructed in 1924, the lighthouse became an unintentional tourist attraction. Thousands of people began parking on the road and walking through the woods to the scenic point where the lighthouse stood.

A half century later, however, technology had made the old lighthouses obsolete. Many lighthouses across the country subsequently were automated while others closed. In 1969, Split Rock’s lighthouse was shut down.

Two years later, the state of Minnesota purchased the 25-acre lighthouse site. It was restored to its early 1920s appearance. Today, the lighthouse sits amid Minnesota’s fifth most-visited state park. The lighthouse and its grounds can be toured on the Split Rock Light Station Trail.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.