Preserving Lake Superior Maritime Heritage

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The Lake Superior Maritime Museum has made it their mission to "... preserve the maritime heritage of Lake Superior and the Port of Duluth-Superior...'' They cooperate with a Corps of Engineers to preserve and exhibit artifacts, documents, and photographs, and they work to fund the development and presentation for schools and events, educating the public about the rich maritime history of the area. They also support the Lake Superior Maritime Collection at the University of Wisconsin - Superior. All of this is done through the growing membership of the museum, as well as citizens who volunteer and work to make the mission happen.

An important part of the museum's collection is the Fresnel Lens. This lens has a vast history that includes lighting the Inner Range Light on the South Pier of the Duluth Ship Canal. The installation of the lens occurred in 1901. In 1995 the Coast Guard installed a new plastic lens, and gave the original Fresnel lens to the Maritime Museum. The estimated value of this lens is $250,000. It is considered a classic rotating 5th Order Fresnel, featuring six flash panels, and it has its original mechanical clockworks. The refurbishing of the lens began in 2001 by Jim Dunlap. He cleaned the pieces, rebedding them in putty, and reassembled the lens. The base was moved from the second floor of the museum to the Knowlton Gallery. The lens has since had an electric motor installed to turn the gear, and a very small light was added.

The museum features a variety of seafaring exhibits in addition to the lens. School and community groups are encouraged to visit the museum and can plan a field trip during the week by calling ahead. Admission to the museum is free. School visits take about 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Groups can range in size from 20 to 50 people, but there are occasions when larger groups can be accommodated. The museum asks that there be one adult chaperone for every 8 to 10 student. Most of the tours begin in the meeting room where students are given a seminar about the museum before touring the exhibits. Restrooms and drinking fountains are available in the lower level of the museum and the facility is handicap accessible.

There are numerous educational programs available at the museum including Rail Meets Sails, for fourth graders through adults. This program demonstrates shipping activities that occur in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and the Great Lakes. There are hands-on parts of the program that allow kids to touch taconite, coal, grain, and other cargo. The All Aboard program is designed for kindergarten through fourth grade and takes kids on a tour of a ship's pilothouse, living quarters, and engine room. Groups must be 15 students or smaller. The Great Lakes Question is another option for fourth graders through adults, and this program explores conservation of the Great Lakes. Children are asked to consider how they would maintain the delicate balance of the lake systems ecosystem.

If you are looking for a unique way to share maritime history with children and adults, the Lake Superior Maritime Museum is a great way to enjoy the experience.

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