lighthouse Legendary Lighthouses  Great Lighthouses: Washington PBS Online

Great Lighthouses Washington: Lighthouses of the Pacific Northwest

Cape Disappointment

Cape Flattery

Cape Destruction

Grays Harbor


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, Washington, - 1856

Open to public; active aid to navigation; owned and managed by Coast Guard.

Cape Disappointment, at the entrance to the Columbia River, was built in Washington, but was built to warn mariners traveling in Oregon waters, going to mouth of Columbia River (it’s also listed in Oregon books as an Oregon lighthouse).

Oldest operating lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest. Area has lots of history. Cape Disappointment received its name in 1778 from fur trader John Meares, who was looking for a river. When he decided that no river existed, he called the area Cape Disappointment.

The need for a lighthouse at Cape Disappointment was determined in 1848 by a US Coast survey. Yet the lighthouse wasn’t completed until 1856, because the vessel Oriole, carrying the construction materials, sank just miles from the site in 1850. (see Bibliography: Gibbs, Lighthouses of the Pacific p. 135-6). The second shipment arrived in 1854 and then it took two more years to build at a cost of $38,500. This was more than 1/4 of the original amount of $148,000 allotted for the original 8 lighthouses for the West Coast.

In 1864 received unwelcome neighbors when Fort Canby was erected to guard the Columbia River during the Civil War. Blasts from the big guns used to shake the lighthouse and occasionally break windows. During World War II, Japanese submarines surfaced off Fort Stevens on the South side of the river and lobbed in several shells at Fort Canby. The Fort is a Washington State Park and popular picnic and camping grounds.

Early Keepers Stories:

Joel Munson, keeper in 1860, upset by the many shipwrecks, decided to raise money for a life-saving boat by holding square dances in Astoria, where he played the fiddle and charged $2.50 entrance fees.

In the late 1800’s, third assistant keeper George Esterbrook was cleaning the tower light on a stormy night when he got locked out on the balcony and had to scale the copper lightening rod to get back in. When he got back in on the second balcony, he was exhausted, but soon went back to work. Weeks later he quit the service, and went on to study medicine and become a physician.

 Coast Guard maintains a lifeboat station and school at Cape Flattery. Only one of its kind on the West coast; used to train recruits for motor lifeboat duty. Exercises take place in demanding weather condition on stormy seas.

Back to top

Cape Flattery, Tatoosh Island, Washington - 1857

Not open to the public. Owned and managed by Coast Guard. Active aid to navigation.

Tatoosh Island named in 1788 by Captain John Meares, who named it after Chief Tatooche of the Makah Indians. Tatoosh means Thunderbird.

It is located at the northwest corner of the forty-eight contiguous United States as well as entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It is one of the original 16 lighthouses designated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service to be built on the West coast.

There was trouble between the Native American Indians and both the survey and construction crews. The Makah Indians had long made the island their summer home and used it to catch salmon, spear whales and plant potatoes --as well as for their potlatches (ceremonies in which Indian hosts gave away lots of their possessions). The first Americans built temporary fortresses to keep the Native American Indians out. When the second survey crew came, they infected the Native American Indians with small pox, and wiped out more than 500 of (about half) their tribe. The Native American Indians were very resentful of the "Bostons" because of this. The construction crew built fortresses had guards and prepared for attack. The Native American Indians didn’t attack, but stole food, tools and clothes and eventually became curious and just got in the way. Took 1 1/2 years to build because of the slow arrival of materials and the hostilities.

This Light is noted for troubles with it’s keepers. The first four keepers left within months as a result of their fear of the Native Americans, and with their difficulty in obtaining mail and supplies. Two early keepers got into an argument over breakfast and threw hot coffee at each other, scalding each other. They decided to have a duel to the death, but after each emptied his pistol without wounding the other, they called a truce and later became friends. Later they learned that their buddies had loaded the pistols with blanks.

The isolation got to them -- before telephones, their only communication was via the infrequent stops by the tenders. Indian paddlers used to deliver mail, personnel and supplies. One tenacious Native American, "Old Doctor" crashed three canoes against the rocks. Telephone cables often broke in storms.

In 1883, a weather station was put up -- this was a good place for it. It recorded an average of 215 inches of rain per year.

Back to top

Destruction Island Light, Destruction Island, Washington, - 1891

Not open to the public. Owned and managed by Coast Guard. Active aid to navigation.

"Isolated, forlorn, dreary, and barren" was the description given by a Coast Guardsman. It sits on a 30-acre island about three miles from an uninhabited section of the mainland. The nearest town, La Push, is twenty miles north. Reef and rocky shores make it difficult to land a boat on the island. The island sits like a flat grassy tabletop over the rocks. About 40 years ago, a repairman arrived to make a repair. He expected to go home the same day, but strong winds kept him there for two weeks.

Construction of the Light took three years because of the difficult conditions.

The lighthouse is outfitted with a first-order Fresnel lens, which still operates.

A FUNNY STORY: (see Bibliography: DeWire, Guardians of the Lights p. 66-68) Because of the bad weather conditions in the Puget Sound, a steam powered fog signal was installed two years after the lighthouse was first commissioned. When it wore out, it was replaced by a diaphragm horn, that bellows in a deep voice like that of an angry bull. At the time there were a number of cows living on the island, as well as one contented bull among this harem. Grazing was good and there were no fences, since the island dropped off over the rocks. When the new foghorn sounded for the first time, the bull thought he had a competitor and charged the source of this noise -- the lighthouse. He crashed the fence surrounding the fog signal and then charged the fog signal house, in a several hour rampage. The keepers had to make a pen to contain the bull and it was months before he came to terms with the sound of the foghorn.

Grays Harbor (Westport) Light, Westport, Washington - 1898

Owned by Coast Guard; active aid to navigation; open to public on certain open house days

One of the most majestic lighthouses on the West Coast. Set back from the ocean, its octagonal 107-foot tower rises over surrounding sand dunes and trees. Most of its original lighting system is intact.

Back to top

|| Geography || Lighthouses OR || Lighthouses WA || Great Stories || In the Shadow... || Contact Sheet || Bibliography ||
|| Home || Lighthouses/Region || Photo Gallery || Video/Book Offer ||
|| Program Schedule || Series Information || PBS Online ||