Sand Island lighthouse, near the western end of the Apostle Island chain, was occupied for a shorter period than any of the archipelago's other lights. Built in 1881, it was the first of the group to be automated, in 1921.
Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful lighthouses on Lake Superior, the structure was built from sandstone quarried right at the building site. The design of the lighthouse was influenced by the Gothic style, popular during the Victorian period. The light tower begins as a square rising from the northwest corner of the dwelling, then gracefully flows into an octagon surmounted by the lantern and walkway. Carved wood trim decorates the steeply sloped gable end of the quarters. A fourth-order Fresnel lens produced a fixed white light from the top of the 44-foot tall tower.
Sand Island light had only two principal keepers: Charles Lederle, from 1881-1891, and Emmanuel Luick, from 1892-1920. In 1885, Lederle gained praise for his daring rescue of the crew from the steamer Prussia. Spotting the burning ship, he rowed a small boat several miles out on the open lake, and rescued the entire crew. Luick also witnessed a shipwreck at close hand, but could do nothing to assist the victims. During a fierce September storm in 1905, he could only watch from the tower as the freighter Sevona broke apart near shore. Seven sailors, including the ship's captain, drowned.
The keepers at Sand Island were not as isolated from civilization as those at other Apostle Islands lights. During the years the light was staffed, Sand Island supported a small, year-round community of farmers and fishermen. The keepers and their families often walked or rowed two miles to visit neighbors and participate in social events.
In 1921, the Lighthouse Service installed an acetylene light atop the tower, designed to run without need for daily attendance. Keepers from nearby Raspberry Island kept an eye on the beacon to make sure it was operating properly, and changed the fuel tanks when they emptied.
Meanwhile, Keeper Luick moved to the lighthouse at Grand Marais, Minnesota, to finish his long career. His former home did not stay vacant long, however; for much of the 1920s and 30s, the Lighthouse Service rented the building to Gertrude Wellisch, a Minnesota schoolteacher who used it as a summer retreat. Ms Wellisch and a later tenant carried out critical maintenance and repairs, helping to preserve the historic structure.
The station's lamp was moved twice during the years of automation. The Lighthouse Service erected a 50-foot steel tower in front of the stone building some time around 1933, and placed the acetylene apparatus atop it. The beacon stood outside the lighthouse for more than half a century, but in 1985, the Coast Guard returned the signal to its historic home and removed the metal tower. Once again, the light shines from the tower in this jewel of the Apostles.