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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Superior Entry
Saint Louis River Navigation Channel
Superior, WI

Superior Entry

• Structure: Superior Harbor Entry Channel
• Location: River Mile 0.0
• River Elevation: 602 Feet
• Daily Traffic Count: ???
• Channel Length: 1,550 Feet (Estimated)
• Channel Width: 415 Feet
• Date Built: Charted 1861
Lake Superior is a relatively new lake, having been created about 10,000 years ago at the end of the ice age. It was once much deeper, but lower water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron resulted in Lake Superior draining until a rapids formed at Sault Ste Marie. The lake remains the largest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area), and it contains about one tenth of all fresh water on the planet.

The second largest tributary of Lake Superior is the Saint Louis River. The Saint Louis is 179 miles long, and is almost entirely contained within Saint Louis County, Minnesota. The river widens into a large bay and freshwater estuary near Lake Superior. The bay is separated from the lake by the largest sand bar in the world, which extends 12 miles between the twin ports cities of Duluth and Superior.

The sandbar had one natural opening to allow the outflow of the Saint Louis River. First charted in 1861, the opening was as wide as 1500 feet, and 4 to 16 feet deep. Since then, the Superior Entry has been modified a number of times to meet the needs of ever bigger ships. The entry was dredged in 1871. Wood cribbing and a beacon were installed in the early 1880s. By 1885, a large installation was established on the north side of the entry by the Coast Guard. A steam powered fog signal was established in 1893. A second light was added in 1898. Concrete piers were added in 1905, and concrete breakwaters were completed in 1910. By 1912, a new lighthouse was built on the south breakwater. It featured an air powered fog signal and light with a fourth-order Fresnel lens. The air powered fog signal was retired in 1937 and replaced with a diaphone, which is a two-tone fog signal that works much like a pipe organ. The light station was automated in 1970.

Water levels in Lake Superior are impacted by a phenomena known as a seiche. That is, water sloshes back and forth across the lake, alternately piling up on either the east or west side of the lake. These seiches have a period of 7.9 hours. Water will flow east for 7.9 hours, then reverse and flow west for 7.9 hours. The water level in the harbor and bay rises and falls based on these seiches. The harbor has its own seiche on top of the Lake Superior seiche. The result is that water flow reverses direction at the Superior Entry every 2 hours and 6 minutes, alternately flowing out to the lake and back into the bay.

The photo above is looking northwest towards the Superior Harbor as two small craft pass through the Superior Entry towards the lake. Northern Pacific dock #1 is visible in the background. The photo below is the official state historical marker located on the Wisconsin side of the entry.

Superior Entry
Superior Entry
The photo above is looking east out towards Lake Superior. The entry has a concrete wall on each side of the channel, and rock breakwaters extending a distance out into the lake. The photo below is a close view of the east end of the north wall. The end of the wall is marked with a solar-powered beacon.

Superior Entry
Superior Entry
The photo above is looking east down the length of the wall on the south side of the entry channel. This wall had a wide concrete platform. The side of the wall facing the channel is lined with sheet pile. The photo below is the east end of the south breakwater. The Wisconsin Point Lighthouse is located at the end of the breakwater. While a light has been located on Wisconsin Point since 1856, this building was constructed in 1912. It housed a pair of 22-horsepower air compressors, two 6-inch air sirens, and a rotating 4th-order Fresnel lens with a 2,900 candlepower lamp. The light was reported to be visible for 16 miles. The air siren was replaced by a diaphone fog signal in 1937, which was augmented with a radio beacon in 1938.

Superior Entry
Superior Entry
These two photos are looking west towards the Wisconsin mainland. The large structures in the photo below are the giant BNSF ore docks in the Superior harbor. The Northern Pacific dock #1 is on the very far right side of the photo behind the trees. Note the light poles sticking up in the distance in the photo above. The large docks in the center of the photo below are the Great Northern dock #1 (right) and GN dock #2 (left). GN dock #3 no longer exists, and GN dock #4, as well as Burlington Northern dock #5, are out of the photo to the left. The GN and NP merged in 1970 to become Burlington Northern, which has since become the BNSF. The NP and GN docks are no longer connected to the rail lines due to their low and narrow bridges over US-2 and US-53 having been removed. The BN dock is still functional and did load taconite in 2007, but its future is cloudy given the recent mine shutdowns. The taconite is stored in a huge mile-long pile located west of the city of Superior. A conveyor belt brings the taconite to the to the loader. The ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald loaded at the GN dock #1 in November, 1975, before it set out on its final voyage.

Superior Entry

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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