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Island jewel evolves from dredge spoils

According to popular legend, Capt. Charles S. Barker's legacy to the city arose from a dispute with lumber baron Martin Pattison.

As Pattison -- builder and resident of Fairlawn Mansion -- raised lumber prices, the shipping captain who had helped enlarge the Erie and Sault St. Marie canals before settling in the city to remove sandbars from Superior Bay dumped dredge sands to block Pattison's view of the waterfront.

With each increase in lumber prices, Barker dumped more sand and mud to block the lumber baron's view.

Soon, everyone in town dumped dredge spoilings at the site.

In truth, huge sand suckers the captain operated to deepen the channel gobbled sediment from the bottom of the bay and conveniently dumped it on the site, saving the trouble of hauling and dumping the sand in Lake Superior.

It created Barker's legacy to the city when he died in the early 1900s.

Dubbed Superior's Coney Island, Barker's Island became a Mecca for swimmers and picnickers in the summertime. But by the early 1940s, raw sewage in the bay made swimming prohibitive. Except for the occasional duck hunter, the island remained largely unused.

That was until the early 1970s, when Ted Gozanski brought in Flamingo Excursions -- Vista Cruises. Later, the addition of the S.S. Meteor renewed interest in the island. Improvements to the causeway and a concerted effort by then-Mayor Bruce Hagen helped pave the way for Barker's Island to become a recreational focal point.

Barker's Island Marina opened in 1980 and the Barker's Island Inn that followed remain Hagen's legacy to the city he led for 12 years.

However, the island has never stopped evolving.

Improvements during the next 20 years brought the wharf shops, Seaman's Memorial, a swimming beach, miniature golf, trails, boat launch, community stage and charter fishing dock. Then, in 2001, the city launched an all-out push to revamp and reinvent the island. The push brought federal money and private development together to change the landscape of the island one more time with the addition of the Boathouse Restaurant and the new Vista Excursions building to replace the weathered wharf shops and pilot houses that dotted the island's northern end.

There is still work to be done. The S.S. Meteor that spurred renewed interest in the island about 35 years ago is in need of rehabilitation.

Work is also underway to develop a Historic Structures Report to guide that rehabilitation and apply for grants to help finance the planning and renovation work.