Oregon: Lighthouses of the Pacific Northwest
Head Lighthouse, Florence, Oregon - 1894
Pronounced He-see-ta, which people think is correct Spanish, but its not --
Hey-they-ta is correct. Sometimes mispronounced Hecketa; Accessible, managed by U.S.
This is the most powerful marine light on the Oregon Coast -- 1.2 million candlepower.
Turned on in 1894. One of the most beautiful lighthouses and settings. The view through
the Needles Eye in early pictures was especially picturesque. The top of this formation
is now eroded.
Named for Portuguese explorer Don Burnos Heceta who set sail from Mexico in 1775
to explore the Northwest Coast. He identified the headland in his writings.
The light station -- tower and other buildings --was built using the same architectural
plans as Umpqua River light in order to save money. The first-order lens was from
England -- not from France.
Many keepers and families lived at the light station, which had its own post office
and one-room school house. Last keeper at the lighthouse was Ossie Allik, who had
the distinction of being the last keeper at Tillamook and Heceta Head. He turned
the lights off July 20, 1963, when it became automated. (Ossie Allik died a year
after retiring in 1963. He suffered a heart attack while aiding a motorist whose
car went off the road.)
After that the U.S. Forest Service gained jurisdiction over the keepers dwelling
and then leased it to Lane Community Center as a study center and retreat. Placed
on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the exterior was well maintained,
but the interior had suffered.
Recently it has been restored and in 1996 it was opened for tours as well as a
B&B with three guest rooms. Also can be rented for private events. Caretakers
are Mike and Carol Korgan. Mike and his wife have been living in the lighthouse one
year. They came as volunteers and have now committed to running the B&B for five
years. They are both certified chefs and cater events as well as the daily breakfasts
for guests. The B&B is open all year. There is usually a 3-month backup for rooms.
It was voted best B&B in Sunset Magazine, July 97.
Ghost story always associated with Heceta House was that in the 1890s was that
of a woman, wife of an assistant keeper, whose young child died while at the lighthouse.
A Ouija Board revealed the name Rue, but theres dispute whether that was the name
of the woman or the child. There are tales of a headstone in the vegetation on the
property that has never been found. Caretakers, college students and construction
workers have claimed that strange unexplained occurrences have taken place inside
the house, though the Alliks had never encountered the ghost, according to Nelson
and Gibbs. Mike Korgan says that his guests have had some friendly encounters with
Rue. Elinore DeWire expands upon the story (see bibliography:Guardians of the
Lights, p. 237-238) with reports that nearly all the residents of the station
since the 50s have reported unexplainable things. One family heard screams and several
times found things moved or missing. An 1890s silk stocking replaced a box of rat
poison. A worker in the 70s cleaning attic windows noticed a reflection on the glass
and turned to face the eternal visage of a silver-haired woman in a long, dark dress.
He ran out of the attic, and would only come back to work if he didnt have to climb
into the attic. Working outside, he broke an attic window, but didnt go in to clean
up the glass. That night the couple living there heard sounds in the attic and the
next day discovered the glass neatly swept into a pile.
Heceta House has been the subject of local films and used in a TV movie.
The lighthouse is located in Devils Elbow State Park Sea Lion Caves, located
one mile south of the lighthouse, are the only mainland site for viewing wild sea
lions year-round. A stairway and elevator take you 206 feet down to 1500 feet long
vaulted cave where you can observe sea lions and their pups up close. Open daily.
(91560 Highway 101, Florence, OR 97439, 503/547-3111)
Rock, Oregon "Terrible Tilly" (Built 1879-1880)
Tillamook is a great story -- a tremendous engineering feat, the quintessential
isolated location and stormy seas, and takes the prize for the most unusual present
day use of a lighthouse. It is located 1.1 miles off the coast in seas that can often
be turbulent. No longer open to the public. Lighthouse is privately owned but land
is maintained by U.S. Forest Service.
The Story of the Construction of Tillamook Rock:
This was one of the great engineering feats of the late 19th century -- took 575
days to build with only one life lost.
There was some initial skepticism about constructing on a rock. What was considered
wasteful and foolish turned to outrage when surveyor John Trewavas was put ashore
in 1879 and slipped and drowned.
Construction was done in secret with crew sequestered, partially on the U.S. Revenue
Cutter Thomas Corwin, because of public opposition.
Construction superintendent Charles A. Ballantyne (spelled Ballentyne in several
sources) and four laborers were put on shore from the Corwin on October 21, 1879
despite very heavy seas. They brought hammers, drills, iron rings bolts, small stove
and provisions, and a supply of canvas for temporary shelter. Five days later the
rest of the quarrymen joined them as well as a small derrick. First to arrive had
to fight off families of sea lions on the rock.
Rigged a line from the Corwin to the rock to get personnel and supplies back and
forth. Created a "breeches buoy" that the men sat in. This was essentially
a life ring fitted with old pants cut off at the knees. Since it was near impossible
to keep the Corwin still, the line would often fall slack, and the men would get
drenched. -- This contraption carried men on and off the rock until it was unmanned
Story of Mr. Gruber, the corpulent quarryman -- he was frightened of the breeches
buoy, and refused to leave the steamer. However it was discovered that he was too
large to fit in the breeches buoy, so Ballantyne suggested he be lashed to it. He
refused and sat in the steamer again. They had to get a jumbo-sized cork life preserver
and lash it to a boatswains chair -- gave him more flexibility and he was the first
to arrive on the rock dry!
Jim Gibbs (see bibliography: Oregon Seacoast Lighthouses p. 179-184) offers
colorful description of their living and working conditions on the rock. During their
first few weeks on the rock, they were setting up shelters, and landing tools and
supplies, while in total exposure to the weather. In January of 1880, storms nearly
swept them off the rock; pieces of boulder were flying about; and their storehouse,
provisions the water tank and their "traveler" line to the Corwin were
all swept away. The boat couldnt approach them for several weeks with provisions
and badly missed mail.
Crewmen had to blast away tons of rock over the course of seven months, working
through fog, rain and wind. All in all, they blasted away nearly 4600 cubic yards
of basalt to create a pad for the lighthouse.
Several times while the crew was working on the light, Ballantyne had to toss
cartridges of exploding powder over the water to warn ships to stay away.
Wreck of Lupatia -- On New Years Day, 12 days prior to official opening, during
a tremendous gale, workers heard strange noises over the roar of the storm -- mens
voices and the distinct sound of a dog barking. The next day when the storm abated
they found the wreck of the Lupatia, which was headed from Japan to the Columbia
River. The entire 16-member crew died; only the ships dog survived. (Some registers
carry her name Lupatia; others Lupata.)
The first-order Fresnel lens was lit on January 11 (or 21), 1881 for the first
time. The lens stood 134 feet over the water. The lighthouse consisted of a square
tower protruding from a one-story dwelling with rooms for each keeper, a kitchen
and a storeroom which housed six months worth of supplies. An adjacent annex housed
the fog signal and siren. A cistern, carved deep into the rock, collected rain for
the stations water supply. The light remained lit until 1957. Although the cost
of repairs and maintenance were a headache for the U.S. Lighthouse Service and later
the Coast Guard, the lighthouse is like a fortress and has stood the test of time.
No women or children were ever permitted on Tillamook.
The lighthouse was often barraged by storms and the iron roof and lantern panes
(134 above water) were often cracked or shattered from flying rock and debris. During
storm of 1934 -- smashed the lantern house and the Fresnel lens. The waves actually
crashed over the house. The water flowed like a waterfall into the rotunda. The men
worked overnight in water up to their necks to install a makeshift light to replace
the Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was in shambles. Keeper Jenkins ingeniously contrived
a makeshift short-wave radio out of spare parts to alert authorities. But it was
four days before a ship could even approach the rock to aid the keepers and inspect
Story of Thanksgiving duck: On Thanksgiving of 1913, the weather was so bad that
the tender couldnt land any provisions. Just that day two ducks crashed into the
lantern and fell dead on the metal gallery -- and keeper Dahlgren and his assistants
were able to feast on roasted duck, considering it a true gift from heaven.
Oswald Allik, career lighthouse keeper, was last keeper of Tillamook Rock, from
1937-1957. Jim Gibbs worked for him as assistant keeper in 1945-46. Jim tells of
his gentle disposition: when a young Coast Guard assistant took offense to an order
and doubled his fist as if to strike the keeper, Allik said "If it will make
you feel better you have my permission to strike me."
Alliks final entry in the station log, preserved at the Columbia River Maritime
Museum in Astoria, read:
"Farewell, Tillamook Rock Light Station. An era has ended. With this final
entry, and not without sentiment return thee to the elements. You, one of the most
notorious and yet fascinating of the sea-swept sentinels in the world; long the friend
of the tempest tossed mariner. Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your
beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement. May the
elements of nature be kind to you. For 77 years you have beamed your light across
desolate acres of ocean. Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you
were faithful to the end. May your sunset years be good years. Your purpose is now
only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are
worthy of the highest respect. A protector of life and property to all, may old-timers,
newcomers and travelers along the way pause from the shore in memory of your humanitarian
September 1, 1957
According to Jim Gibbs (see bibliography: Twilight on the Lighthouses ,
he helped his keeper write that letter.
Presently a Columbarium-- story of owners 1957.
-- Academic Economic Coordinators of Las Vegas first bought it at public auction
-- they sold it to General Electric executive George Hupman of New York, who had
grandiose plans of turning it into a summer resort with helicopter access. The lighthouse
interior was in a total mess. He sent in a crew to clean it up but eventually gave
-- Sold it to Max Shillock Jr. of Portland for $27,000 in 1978. Shillock masqueraded
as a wealthy investor but in actuality borrowed the money from a Mrs. Joy Goolsby.
He nearly drowned trying to reach the rock, but was saved by the Coast Guard. He
did get a lot of publicity, however he was soon sued by Mrs. Goolsby for lack of
payment -- including businesswoman Mimi Morrisette, and associates -- under the name
of Eternity at Sea, who stripped down the lighthouse interior to convert it into
the worlds first lighthouse Columbarium! They created 100,000 niches for urns and
promised purchasers of the services a helicopter ride (weather permitting) for a
loved one to see an ash filled urn placed in solitude inside the structure.
-- As of 1996, only 17 urns had been placed in the Columbarium, and of those two
had been stolen, presumably by thieves who landed at night in helicopters. (see bibliography:
Twilight on the Lighthouses).
Tillamook Rock has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which
allows exterior painting so that from the sea it looks good. -- The U.S Fish &
Wildlife Service is the overseer of the lighthouse. Once again home to sea lions,
seals and sea birds.
Bay Lighthouse - 1871, and Yaquina Head Lighthouse - 1873, Newport, Oregon(Accessible)
Yaquina Bay Lighthouses, built in 1871, has the distinction of being the Oregon
lighthouse that has served the shortest period -- a mere three years. When a first-class
lighthouse was built just three miles north of Yaquina Bay, this one was no longer
In much lighthouse literature, there was the incorrect assumption that the lighthouse
built in error at Yaquina Head was supposed to be built at Cape Foulweather, nine
miles further north on the Oregon Coast. Supposedly, the shippers dropped the materials
off at the wrong location. However, Professor Stephen Dow Beckman researched this
and has verified that it was supposed to be there. He says they intentionally dropped
the materials at Yaquina Head because the weather was bad. The error was that early
reports mistakenly referred to the cape at Yaquina Head as Cape Foulweather. (see
bibliography: Nelson, Oregon Lighthouses p. 47) But the engineers who built
the lighthouse did in fact build it in the correct location. Nevertheless, the building
of this superior lighthouse just 3 1/2 miles north of Yaquina Bay caused its demise.
Only one keeper and his family lived in Yaquina Bay. Lightkeeper Charles H. Peirce,
and his wife Sarah lived there with seven of their nine children.
Yaquina Bay, now restored by Friends of Lincoln County, serves as lighthouse museum.
Lit up at Christmas time.
Ghost story of Muriel connected with Yaquina Bay, (see bibliography: Guardians
of the Lights, p. 245-247) and Oregon Seacoast Lighthouses p. 131. Muriel was
daughter of sea captain, born end of 19th century, who explored the abandoned lighthouse
with some school friends. As they were about to leave, she ran back into the lighthouse
to find her scarf, and she never came out. After searching, they found a pool of
blood on the floor at the foot of the stairs leading to the tower. A trail of drops
led upstairs to the edge of an iron door. This door to a compartment with a deep
hole, which they had left open, was now shut. Her friends couldnt open the door
and went to seek help. A complete search was made -- but no one could open the door.
Muriel was never found. There was a rumor that someone lived in the hole and had
murdered Muriel. Some people insist theyve seen her ghost. According to Jim Gibbs,
a fictitious story written by Lischen Miller, in an 1899 issue of Pacific Monthly,
entitled "The Haunted Lighthouse" was the source of this ghost story. Jim
has a reproduction of the article (see bibliography: Oregon Seacoast Lighthouse,s
p. 133. According to Gibbs, this continues to be a modern day ghost story -- members
of the coast Guard ANT team testify to the fact that mysterious things have happened
on their watch.
Yaquina Head is a first class light station; still standing today. First-order
Fresnel lens, still in place; now operated by electricity. Light was automated in
Several ghost stories associated with Yaquina Head. 1) an unauthenticated story
about a construction worker who fell to his death while working on the tower. He
fell between the double walls and his body could not be retrieved, so he was sealed
between the walls like a crypt. 2) story about Keeper Smith in the 1920s; one night
went into Newport with his family and put assistant keeper Higgins in charge. Higgins
fell sick and asked another keeper, Story, to take charge. Smith noticed from Newport
that the beacon hadnt been lit and rushed back to the lighthouse. Found Higgins
dead and Story drunk. After that Smith, fearing Higgins "ghost", used
to take his bulldog up into the tower with him. Keeper Zenor, who served for 22 years,
said he used to hear the ghost, but not after the activity at Yaquina Head during
World War II. Yaquina Head was used as the "haunted house" for a Nancy
Yaquina Head was always a popular tourist attraction. When it was built in 1873
the 92-foot tower was a skyscraper and so many tourists came to see it, the keepers
had to request the officials to declare visiting hours, so they could get their work
done and get adequate sleep.
Managed by Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, the Yaquina
Head Outstanding Natural Area is a Mecca for seabird and sea life. Harbor seals live
on the low rock island; mass migration of whales can be observed in early winter
and spring for headland vantage points; low tide reveals seaweeds, seastars, hermit
crabs purple urchins and anemones in the "marine gardens".
Arago Lighthouse, Coos Bay, OR - 1866
Owned and operated by Coast Guard; not open to the public.
Located on one of the most dangerous stretches of Oregon Coast. Built to guide
the lumber freighters through entrance of Coos Bay on coast of Oregon. Oregons forests
provide much of the commerce for the region. For the past one and one-half centuries,
lumber ships have traveled in and out of the Bay .
Known as "Lighthouse Island." Built on narrow island 100 yards from
mainland. Island composed mostly of sandstone, which made the lighthouse susceptible
to erosion. Due to erosion, three lighthouse were built on the site
(1857, 1908, 1933. Subject to treacherous winds, there was concern that the erosion
from high seas would cut the island in half.
Site of many shipwrecks. Most famous was that of the 220-foot Czarina in 1910.
While the lighthouse itself was not involved, the Coos Bay Life Saving Station at
its feet, was. Over the course of several days, the ship foundered in rough seas
until it went down. The entire crew and one passenger were desperately clinging to
the rigging. Ultimately there was only one survivor, first engineer Kintzel, who
manage to lash himself to a plank that eventually swept him towards the beach. Life
Saving Station Captain Boice was labeled a coward in a lengthy hearing that followed
the tragedy and resigned. (see Bibliography: Oregons Seacoast Lighthouses
Accessibility to land -- until 1876, only by boat. In 1876 a footbridge was built,
always a problem, called the "Bridge of Sighs." Washed away twice and often
in need of repairs. In 1891, a 400 foot tramway was built with a hand-pulled cable
car. Worked well for seven years. In 1896, work was begun on a high bridge. Right
before it was completed, a tragedy took place. Keeper Thomas Wyman, a daughter, and
two others, were being winched across when a cable broke. They plunged to the water
below and Wymans legs were crushed. One leg had to be amputated. Eight weeks later,
the bridge was completed, which still stands today. (see Bibliography: Nelson, Oregon
Long recognized that site mainland and old village on island -- Many Native Americans
buried. Each year in August, tribal members of Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower
Umpqua and Siuslaw Native Americans hold annual meeting and salmon bake at Baldiyar.
Some still cast ashes of the dead from this site. Right now they are building an
interpretive center on the mainland opposite the island.
Blanco Lighthouse, Sixes, Oregon - 1870
Accessible; Coast Guard operate the light, owns the land; Bureau of Land Management
interprets site and maintains lighthouse and grounds.
Oregons oldest, Oregons most westerly, Oregons tallest -- its 59 foot tower
stands 245 over sea level. Its light shines 21 miles. The cape was named Cape Blanco
de Aguilar by Captain Aguilar for the chalky white cliffs.
Interesting keepers. Charles Peirce came here after Yaquina Bay closed. James
Langlois served 42 years (1875 until he retired in 1918) -- longest tenure on West
Coast. During his tenure he had two female assistant keepers, Bretherton and Alexander.
It was a very popular site and visitors flocked here and were shown around by Langlois
and his wife.
During World War II, served as a defense area with coastal lookout. A Japanese
submarine launched a small float plane which used the lighthouse to navigate by as
it dropped incendiary bombs in nearby forest. (see Bibliography: Nelson, Oregon
Lighthouses p. 6)
When the second-order Fresnel lens was damaged by vandals several years ago, a
national search to find someone to repair it led lighthouse officials to Larry Hardin
of Hardin Optical in nearby Bandon, Oregon. He and his colleagues spent more than
a year creating several new prisms and a central bulls-eye for the light. Special
tools had to be built for the project as existing ones could not be used. An FBI
search revealed that two local high school students had caused the damage. They were
tried and sentenced for the vandalism.
In the summer of 1997, the University of Oregon Historic Preservation Field School
used the lighthouse for preservation education during its summer field school. They
provided a professional condition assessment report with the help of Lisa Sasser,
then Assistant Chief Historical Architect with the National Park Service, Washington,