Gull Rock Reaches a New Era - Interior Restoration

By Debbie Roark

The following article appeared in the Spring 2010 edition of the The Beacon©, the official publication of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association.

Click on a thumbnail below to see the full-size photo.

Since its automation in 1913, Gull Rock Lighthouse has suffered greatly from the harsh conditions of Lake Superior. Decades before the nonprofit Gull Rock Lightkeepers took responsibility for the lighthouse in 2004, there were large holes in the roof of the structure, exposing the interior to the elements. A large portion of the first and second floors of the keeper’s dwelling had collapsed into the basement. In 2008, a major milestone was achieved when the roof was replaced, using the original red-cedar shingle design. The new roof has helped forestall further damage to the interior of the lighthouse. In that same year, volunteers performed the monumental task of removing all of the debris from the collapsed first and second floors.

Aerial view of lighthouse after roof restoration.
Looking up from the basement into the main floor kitchen during cleanup. Four-and-a-half dumpsters full of debris were carried out of the lighthouse by volunteers, much of it hauled from the basement by hand in 55-gallon garbage cans.
Volunteers wearing respirators during the cleanup at Gull Rock: hot, sweaty, very dirty work.

Today, only two buildings remain on the island: the keeper’s house with attached light tower, and the privy. In recent decades, the masonry on the privy cracked and in some areas near the base had completely broken away leaving sizable holes in the stone masonry foundation. This raised concerns about the small building’s ability to withstand a large Lake Superior storm. In August 2009, contractors repaired the privy foundation. In the adjoining photos illustrating the work, note the remaining holes that are part of the original ‘flow-through’ design of the privy!

The south side of the privy foundation prior to restoration.
The Robert E. Johnson Contracting crew performed the stabilization work on the privy foundation.
The privy in 2007.
The privy today, complete with new roof (installed in 2008), foundation repair, and a view of Manitou Island in the distance.

There are currently no boat docks on Gull Rock; the originals probably washed away long ago. A landing craft was hired with the cooperation of Isle Royale National Park to transport supplies and remove debris during the roof and cleanup projects in 2008. With the much smaller scope of the privy foundation repair, transport could be done on a ‘simpler’ scale with boat and canoe.

Landing Craft hired from Isle Royale National Park delivers roofing supplies.
Rowing supplies and equipment from Gull Rock to the contractor’s boat, anchored in the distance.
Yes, that is a wheelbarrow in the canoe.

The work crew spent three weeks on the job in 2008. During this time they were housed in a plywood and tarp shelter, at the mercy of 30+ mph winds, a huge thunderstorm, and midge fly hatches. An historical architect spent a day at the site in August 2009 to gather information, measurements, and samples to help prepare a plan for the next phase of restoration. Today, we are ready to begin interior restoration, with the added benefit of providing better shelter for future crews.

This pre-fabbed bunkhouse, used by the roofing crew, sleeps four with a little room to spare. It held during the wind and storms.
Ken Czapski, with U.P. Engineers and Architects, takes measurements of the cleaned out interior of Gull Rock Lighthouse in order to prepare plans for the next phase of restoration: work on the interior!
Jeremiah Mason, Gull Rock Lightkeepers board member and a direct descendent of James Corgan, one of Gull Rock’s most famous keepers, helps gather paint samples.

These restoration projects were accomplished through the generous financial assistance of the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program and many other public and private donors. In addition, we have been fortunate to have a local resident volunteer his services to restore the windows in the lighthouse.

Future plans include continued restoration of the lighthouse, and allowing public access to the light through a fellowship program open to scholars, scientists, and artists as well as eventual tours by the general public. For more information, including additional photos, please visit Tax deductible PayPal donations to support the restoration are accepted on the website.

Debbie Roark has been a Gull Rock board member since 2007.


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