HCLL features ‘Last Keeper at Split Rock’


Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning's (HCLL) online series continues with Mike Roberts, who spoke to a capacity crowd on Feb. 24, 2015.

Roberts, as part of a four-year tour of duty with the U.S. Coastguard, spent 27 months at the iconic lighthouse before the lighthouse was permanently closed in January of 1969. The video can be accessed via the HCLL Facebook page at, or with the YouTube link at The video can be viewed any time through the end of October.

Roberts reported that a huge storm on Lake Superior in 1905 sank 29 ships and killed 129 sailors who perished close to Split Rock. After that catastrophic storm, alarmed citizens circulated a petition to establish a lighthouse. Construction began in 1909, with Cream City bricks fired in Milwaukee and transported to Split Rock by way of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The lighthouse, which stands 158 feet tall, is "the jewel in the crown of the Minnesota Historical Society," according to Roberts.

Electricity was added to the lighthouse around 1940.


One of Roberts' first tasks was to paint the outside of the lighthouse. "It was easy on the back side of the lighthouse," he noted. "But on the cliff side, I had to position a 20-foot ladder very close to the edge of the cliff. Observers who saw what I was doing thought I was nuts."

As he spoke to the HCLL audience, Roberts also gave details of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 and other shipwrecks on Lake Superior.

Roberts' memoir about his time as the lighthouse keeper was published in 2010. DVDs of this and other HCLL programs are available for checking out at the Park Rapids Library.

What To Read Next
Get Local