Split Rock Lighthouse - Come for the View, Stay for the Story
Video by joefairbanks.com
For Hayes Scriven, Split Rock Lighthouse isn’t just where he reports for work. It is also his home.
Scriven, a self-professed “history geek,” considers his new job as site manager to be a dream job. It blends his love of history with his other passion – the enjoyment and appreciation of nature.
“My family loves kayaking, canoeing, fishing and hunting, and now we live in a place where we can do that all the time,” Scriven said. “Tie that in with the history aspect, and add the aura and status of Split Rock, and it’s the perfect dream location.”
In an interesting “full circle” turn of events, Split Rock is also the place where Scriven proposed to his wife, Jenny - years before they would make the site their home. Recently, Scriven moved his family, which now includes Jenny and their two children, Aneliese (12), and Devin (9), directly on-site.
The move has been a good one; highly enjoyable for the entire Scriven family, and a great fit for the management and care of Split Rock Lighthouse.
Prior to his new position, Scriven, who grew up in Nerstrand, Minnesota (just outside of Northfield), served as Executive Director for the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center (BVHC) in Superior. And before that, he was the executive director of the Northfield Historical Society, a job he began at just 22 years old.
But Minnesota’s North Shore has always beckoned. “My wife and I are big outdoor people,” he said. “We’d come up the Shore, and it always had a spot in our hearts.” And, when speaking about Lake Superior, he noted, “There’s this magic behind it. It has this pull you can’t get away from.”
Split Rock Lighthouse, perched on a ruggedly beautiful 160-foot cliff, is a huge tourist draw, bringing in a whopping 150,000 visitors in a typical year. In addition to the actual lighthouse, the property also includes Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, featuring a lakeshore picnic area, trail center, tent camping, and 14 miles of hiking, biking, snowshoe, and cross-country ski trails.
The history of the lighthouse itself is rich and intriguing, indeed. On November 28, 1905, a single storm-damaged 29 ships on Lake Superior. Soon after, a delegation descended upon Washington, D.C. to lobby for a lighthouse.
Originally known as Stony Point, the name Split Rock was first used by the lobbyists when describing the location, and, ultimately, the name stuck. In early 1907, Congress appropriated $75,000 for a lighthouse and fog signal at Split Rock. The U.S. Lighthouse Service completed the construction of the 7.6-acre facility in 1910.
The lighthouse remained operational for many years. But, as new navigational technology, including GPS, began to emerge, the use of the lighthouse as a navigational tool declined. Split Rock Light Station was closed in 1969.
The State of Minnesota obtained the site in 1971 and transferred administrative responsibility to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1976. The Historical Society continues to manage the site, and is also Scriven’s employer.
Similar to many destinations, Split Rock had to alter operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The site was completely shut down from March to July. Today, the site remains affected, as tours remain outdoor-only.
“We offer a fully outdoor experience,” Scriven said. “People can’t enter the tower or lighthouse quarters now, but they can speak to a guide and take in the view, along with a self-guided tour. We are hoping in the next year to get back to normal,” he noted.
Once things return to normal, Scriven has big plans for Split Rock. “Eventually, I want to offer more experiential programming, and giving tours in a different way, such as photographic tours, or a lore and legends tour,” he said. “We’d like people to be more connected with the site.”
The Scriven family loves their life at Split Rock, where they can experience wildlife, including eagles and bears, and outdoor activities, like kayaking and canoeing. For them, living on-site was the best choice.
“We had the option on whether or not to live on-site,” Scriven said. “I talked to the previous site manager, Lee Radzak, who raised his family here, and he said I’d never regret doing it. So, I talked to my wife about privacy, and the different type of life we’d have. We decided that if we wanted to do this job right, we needed to live on-site.”
“Our kids thought it was so cool,” Scriven added. “My son said, ‘Can we move there right now?’” Ultimately, the family moved in the day before young Devin’s ninth birthday, and the entire family got to celebrate with a beautiful new view.
An amazing journey
Not everyone gets to say that they have their dream job. Hayes Scriven is well aware of his good fortune and relishes every moment.
“Every day is so different,” Scriven said. “I get to meet so many different people, and the kids love the North Shore. Having that freedom and enjoying nature is so important. Every day is an amazing journey.”
“I feel so fortunate and humbled,” he added. “I’m awestruck all the time. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and not many people get to have this experience.”