Standing on a high bluff at the most remote point of the Apostle Islands chain, the Outer Island lighthouse was built in 1874 to guide ships past the archipelago to the rapidly growing ports of Duluth and Superior.
The handsome brick tower stands ninety feet high, with a design that reflects the Italianate architectural style popular in the 1860s and 70s. Inside the tower, a cast iron staircase spirals up to the "watch room," where keepers serviced the lamp and kept vigil over the beacon. The watchroom is encircled by an outside walkway and topped by the lantern room. The hooded, arched windows and the decorated brackets supporting the watchroom walkway show an attention to architectural detail not seen before in the Apostle Islands.
Sited to cast its beam far across the open lake, the Outer Island light had a large, "third-order" Fresnel lens with a central band of six glass prism bull's-eye panels. These bull's-eyes concentrated the light into six brilliant beams. Rotation of the lens on a clockwork mechanism powered by weights caused the beams to sweep the horizon, making the light appear to flash.
The light station on Outer Island is exposed to the full force of Lake Superior. In its first year of operation, the station dock washed away. Waves eroded the clay banks until they collapsed, destroying the fog signal building at their base. Fierce northeast gales caused the tower to sway so dramatically that keeper O.K. Hall feared the clockwork mechanism would break.