When Hayes Scriven told his 11- and 8-year-old children recently that the family would be moving for their dad’s new job, their faces morphed into gigantic grins.
“We get to live at the lighthouse?” they asked.
Scriven, 36, has been named the new keeper of Split Rock Lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior, where he will oversee one of the state’s most photographed landmarks and become one of very few public lighthouse managers in the country who live on-site.
It’s a special move for Scriven and his wife, who got engaged on a hill overlooking the lighthouse 13 years ago.
“My love is up on the North Shore and Split Rock is a very special place,” Scriven said. “To be leading it, I’m super excited to get to tell one of Minnesota’s most important stories.”
The lighthouse, built by the federal government on a rocky cliff more than 100 feet tall after a 1905 storm killed dozens of sailors, hasn’t been used for navigation since the 1960s. Now a National Historic Landmark, it has become a popular tourist destination with a surrounding state park. Scriven’s job will entail not only ensuring its upkeep and safety from vandals and storms, but also making sure its 160,000 annual visitors have a good experience.
He will orchestrate outreach and oversee a staff of 35 during peak season. He and his bosses at the Minnesota Historical Society hope to extend that season with new events, he said.
“The Historical Society is definitely looking at how to do some managed growth on the shoulder seasons ... early spring or late fall when the crowds aren’t as intense,” Scriven said.
Three keepers worked at the lighthouse when it opened in 1910, and three houses still stand on the property, just a few hundred feet south of the lighthouse. Scriven and his family will live in the middle one. One is an interpretive house, and the other is used for storage.
The job was lonely at first, but when Hwy. 61 opened in 1924, vacationers started coming in droves. Nearly 100,000 tourists a year visited by the 1930s, likely making it the most-visited lighthouse in the nation at the time, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Scriven replaces Lee Radzak, who retired in April after 36 years — the longest-serving manager of the lighthouse. Radzak and his wife raised two children there, enjoying peace and beauty when the park was closed, but sometimes living in a fishbowl when visitors would invariably descend on their living quarters to ask questions.
Scriven, who now lives in Two Harbors, about 20 miles down Hwy. 61, and works as director of the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wis., said he and his wife are prepared to live among tourists. They are warning their kids that they will have to live with different rules, such as not leaving their bikes and other personal items strewn around.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity and experience, and not many people get to do that. We’re really blessed and honored to take it on,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to the new challenges it will bring when he starts the job Nov. 1. “I won’t know much more until I get my feet wet.”