Stannard Rock Lighthouse

Michigan, USA

Lake Superior


In 1835, the first American-made ship on Lake Superior was the JOHN JACOB ASTOR, captained by Charles C. Stannard. He was the first to spot a huge rock submerged in the middle of the lake. It now bears his name and holds one of the most desolate lights on the Great Lakes.

Stannard Rock, located about 50 miles north of Marquette, is a mile-long reef very similar to an underwater mountain. From its "peak," which ranges from only four feet below the surface to a foot or two above it, depending on water levels, very shallow depths — 14 to 20 feet, and in some places less — extend out nearly a quarter of a mile. Since it is near shipping lanes so far from shore, it was a particularly dangerous spot before the light was erected and was sometimes referred to as the "Sailors Graveyard."

A day beaon marked this spot beginning in 1868. The lighthouse was built in 1882. The interior was badly damaged in a 1961 explosion that occurred while the station was being automated, resulting in the death of one of the three crewmen. The light was automated in 1962. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The light still operates as an active aid to navigation, under the management of the U.S. Coast Guard.


The first attempt at placing a man-made structure on Stannard Rock occurred in 1868. Work crews mounted a stone crib on Stannard Rock and waited to see if it could withstand the abuse of Lake Superior at this very exposed location. The test indicated that it was feasible to build a lighthouse there, and after years of effort and the expenditure of $300,000, Stannard Rock Light in became a reality in 1882. It was built about a half-mile northwest of the original test crib (see "The Rock.")

Stannard Rock Lighthouse is built on a submerged offshore reef at an exposed location. It is considered an important engineering achievement. It is a conical stone tower on cylindrical crib. The tower height is 110', placing the focal plane of the lens at 102'.


In 1882, a Third order Fresnel lens was installed. That lens is now on display at Marquette Maritime Museum. The current light source is a 300 mm plastic optic. The fog signal was originally a steam whistle, which was later replaced by a diaphone horn.


It is confusing as at different times, all spellings have been used. Most of the early literature spelled the Captain Benjamin's name as "Stannard." The Lighthouse Service called it "Stannard's Rock" up until about 1894, when it became simply "Stannard Rock." Often times, it is pronounced "Standard Rock." Other research indicates the name was spelled "Stanard." Many of the Coast Guard keepers called it "Stranded Rock!"

Stannard's Rock Lens

This second order classical Fresnel lens was made in Paris, France by Henri Lepaute in either 1880 or 1881. At the time, Lepaute was a major manufacturer of lighthouse lenses. The optical glass in the prisms was hand ground. The lens was erected at Stannard's Rock in 1882 and illuminated for the first time on July 4 of that year. The lens weighs a little under two tons. The vertical non-alignment of the upper belt with the middle and lower belts is the result of a manufacturing error. A workman did not bevel certain screw holes in an internal steel ring which resulted in the non-alignment. It has, however, no effect on the optics of the lens.

Lens Damage

Prior to its erection in the tower, the lens was erected and checked in at the factory, again when it arrived in the Lighthouse Service depot in New York and once more when it arrived at the Great Lakes Lighthouse Service depot. At the depots work was done by skilled "lampists," trained to erect and repair the Fresnels. The chipped prisms are likely the result of careless Coast Guard keepers. After the Coast Guard absorbed the Lighthouse Service in 1939, they did not treat the great lenses with the same care the old civilian keepers did and it is thought the chip damage is the result of key rings and belt buckles smashing against the brittle glass. The story, whether true or not, is told that the broken bulls eye was the result of a Canadian goose smashing through the glass of the lantern room and into the lens. Birds were often attracted by the light only to hit the heavy glass panes and die.

Lost Lens

The lens was removed from the lighthouse in 1962, when the light was automated and replaced with a plastic optic. The Fresnel lens was carefully crated in five large wooden boxes and sent off into storage against the day when it would be needed again. It never was, and somehow the Coast Guard "lost" the lens. In 1999, it was "discovered" in the basement of the Coast Guard Academy in Groton, Connecticut. No one could explain why it was there, but regardless, the Marquette Maritime Museum immediately acted to secure a loan agreement for the lens. Once this critical document was signed, two museum members drove out to Maryland (where it had been transferred into storage at the Coast Guard artifact center) and returned it "home" to Marquette.

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"The Rock"

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South View

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West View

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North View

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2nd Order Lens

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Lens Close-Up