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Great Stories: Lighthouses of the Pacific Northwest

New Dungeness Lighthouse

San Juan Islands

Umpqua River

Coquille River

Cleft-of-the Rock


Umpqua River Lighthouse, Winchester Bay, Oregon 1894

Owned by U.S. Coast Guard; present aid to navigation; grounds and lighthouse accessible to public.

The original Umpqua River Lighthouse was built in 1857 to mark the entrance to the Umpqua River and to warn mariners of a deadly shifting sandbar that had caused numerous shipwrecks. However, this lighthouse succumbed to floods and rains and the tower collapsed six years after it was erected.It took 30 years until another lighthouse was built in its place. The present lighthouse was built in 1894 and stands to this day.

The lighthouse still has it’s original first-order Fresnel lens from 1894. When the Coast Guard replaced it in 1983 with an airport beacon, they faced immediate local public outcry and instead repaired it. The light is an unusual revolving, red and white beam, which shines 24-hours a day. Enter through State Park, down a winding road, and the light’s rainbow beacon rotates through the tall pines with its alternating red and white beam.

A twentieth century pirate story took place in 1909 when French West and George Washington Wise boarded the Alaska Pacific Navigation Company liner Buckman in an effort to kill the crew, run the vessel aground near the Umpqua River and make off with a shipment of gold they believed to be aboard. Wise held the ships officer and helmsman hostage in the pilothouse while West went to rouse Captain Edwin Wood, who was asleep in his cabin. West killed him with a shotgun blast. The shot alarmed Wise, who ran from the pilothouse. The helmsman gave the alarm, which aroused the crew. In a shoot-out, West was wounded and he leaped over the side, never to be seen again. Wise was found cowering below deck and he was overpowered and turned over to authorities. He was sent to an asylum for the criminally insane. Ironically, the Buckman was not carrying any gold that night. (see Bibliography: Roberts, Western Lighthouses p. 54-55)

Public tours are conducted of the lighthouse and there is a whale watching platform nearby overlooking the beautiful Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area.

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Coquille River (Bandon) Lighthouse, Bandon, OR 1895

Accessible; Owner/Manager: US Army Corps of Engineers lease to Oregon State Parks; Current light for aesthetic purposes only.

Located at the mouth of the Coquille River where it meets with the Pacific. Bandon was a prosperous and busy port for shipping vessels carrying lumber from Oregon’s forests in mid-late 1800s. The light was built because of the dangerous bar at its mouth which caused shipwrecks and boats to run aground.

It is a simple structure, not an outstanding lighthouse, yet it has interesting architecture with elements of High Victorian Italiante. This makes it unique among West Coast lighthouses.

Last light built in Oregon, served short life. One of the first abandoned in 1939 by the Coast Guard when it took over. Though it was vandalized and gutted after it was abandoned, this lighthouse is more popular now than in the days it served.

The town of Bandon was virtually destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1936. The lighthouse, which is situated on the north side of the jetty, survived.

Shortly after that, the shipping industry declined. Both of these factors led to the abandonment of the light in 1939.

There are lots of shipwreck stories; some of the most famous is that of the Advance and C.A. Klose, in 1904 and 1905. Both of these stories had happy endings -- although the schooners ran aground, they were able to be pulled free without disastrous repair bills.

Bandon is now a popular artists colony and seaport. It has a historic "old town" section with winding, narrow streets. Bandon is also the cranberry capitol of west coast.. The cranberry bogs are not far from the lighthouse.

It is a very accessible location in Bullard’s Beach State Park. Migrating gray whales can often be seen from Face Rock Wayside; March through May and again in December -- early mornings are best.

Date related-events: Cranberry Festival in September and December Festival of Lights. The outline of the lighthouse is lit for the Christmas season and is very picturesque.

Cleft of the Rock, Yachats, Oregon - 1976

This lighthouse is owned by Jim Gibbs, author of several books on lighthouses of the west coast and former Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper. Jim lives in Cleft-of-the Rock Lighthouse, which he established in 1976. Cleft-of-the-Rock is the only privately-owned working lighthouse on the West Coast.

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New Dungeness Lighthouse, Dungeness, Washington - 1857

Accessible; active aid to navigation; owned by Coast Guard; leased to the New Dungeness Chapter of the United States Lighthouse society.

The New Dungeness Lighthouse sits near the tip of the New Dungeness Spit, a low, narrow ribbon of sand and rocks curving gracefully for seven miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From a distance, the spit is barely visible, making it a hazard to ships. The lighthouse was originally one-sixth of a mile from the tip of the spit. It now sits approximately one-half mile from the tip. The spit continues to grow.

The lighthouse went into operation just a few weeks before Cape Flattery.

One early keeper was William Henry Blake. In 1868, 18 Tsimshian Indians camped on the spit near the lighthouse. That night their enemies, the Clallam Indians, massacred all but one pregnant woman. She made her way to the lighthouse where she was taken in by the Blakes. The Clallam followed her and demanded that the Blakes turn her over, but they refused. The following day local people buried the Indians on a nearby spit, which has since been known as Graveyard Spit. The Clallam were found and punished. The woman recovered, then went home. In 1902, her son came to the lighthouse and explained that he was the child the Indian was carrying when she was pregnant.

In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson decreed the New Dungeness Spit to be a Department of Agriculture Wild Bird Reservation. Today, it is the Dungeness National Wildlife refuge, managed by Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1927, the tower was drastically reduced from 100 feet to 63 feet, due to deterioration from weather erosion.

In March of 1994, the Coast Guard, which had manned the lighthouse until 1994, permanently withdrew its last keeper. The New Dungeness Chapter of the US Lighthouse Society was formed on September 3, 1994 and obtained a five year lease to the lighthouse. Since then, the chapter has maintained the lighthouse. It transports two families of keepers (chapter members) out every week by 4x4 -- during the lowest tide possible -- along with supplies and personal effects for a week. The keepers are responsible for cleaning, repairing and maintaining the buildings and keeping the lawns in good condition during the week. They also conduct tours for visitors who arrive on foot (5.5 mile walk) , small boat or kayak. There are keepers there year-round. The keepers pay $75 per person per week. They bring their own food and provision for the week. The revenue is used for a reserve and operating fund for repairs. In their first year of operation, 4525 visitors signed their guest book.

The exterior of the house is being restored to look authentic.


San Juan Islands Lighthouses, Washington

The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of more than 170 islands, 90 minutes north of Seattle. they were discovered in 1790-93 by the Spanish explorer, Manuel Quimper. They were the subject of a boundary dispute in 1859 between the U.S. and Britain known as the Pig War. Later they were a haven for smugglers dealing in Chines laborers, diamonds, liquor and wool. Today they are a vacation destination and haven for boaters. The islands are ringed by five lighthouses. Lime Kiln and Cattle Point are on San Juan Island. Three other stations are at Turn Point on Stuart Island, Patos Island, and Burrows Island.

Bicycle Adventures, based in Olympia, Washington, runs four day bike trips through the San Juans. Bikers stay at charming places, dine at wonderful local restaurants and have their luggage carted from place to place. Tour guides are on hand, as is a support van.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse, built in 1919, was the last lighthouse in Washington to receive electricity. The lighthouse was automated in 1962 and is maintained by the Port Angeles Coast Guard. Access to the lighthouse is through Lime Kiln Point State Park, also known as Whale Watch Park. The lighthouse is used as a shore-based research lab for studying whales. A hydrophone picks up sounds of passing vessels and whales, which gets transmitted over AM radio. (see Bibliography: Nelson, Washington Lighthouse, p. 51)

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