lighthouse Legendary Lighthouses  Great Lighthouses: Oregon PBS Online

Great Lighthouses Oregon: Lighthouses of the Pacific Northwest

Heceta Head

Tillamook Rock

Cape Arago

Cape Blanco

Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head


Heceta Head Lighthouse, Florence, Oregon - 1894

Pronounced He-see-ta, which people think is correct Spanish, but it’s not -- Hey-they-ta is correct. Sometimes mispronounced Hecketa; Accessible, managed by U.S. Forest Service.

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 Needle’s 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 1890’s 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 there’s 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 1890’s 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 didn’t have to climb into the attic. Working outside, he broke an attic window, but didn’t 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 Devil’s 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)

Back to top

Tillamook 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 in 1957.

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 boatswain’s 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 couldn’t 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 Year’s Day, 12 days prior to official opening, during a tremendous gale, workers heard strange noises over the roar of the storm -- men’s 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 ship’s 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 station’s 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.

Back to top

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 the damage.

Story of Thanksgiving duck: On Thanksgiving of 1913, the weather was so bad that the tender couldn’t 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."

Allik’s 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 role.

O. Allik

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 for $5,500.

-- 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 up.

-- 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 world’s 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.

Back to top

Yaquina 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 needed.

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 couldn’t 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 they’ve 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 1966.

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 hadn’t 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 Drew movie.

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".

Back to top

Cape 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. Oregon’s 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: Oregon’s Seacoast Lighthouses P. 75-77)

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 Wyman’s legs were crushed. One leg had to be amputated. Eight weeks later, the bridge was completed, which still stands today. (see Bibliography: Nelson, Oregon Lighthouses)

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.

Cape 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.

Oregon’s oldest, Oregon’s most westerly, Oregon’s 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 bull’s-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, DC.

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 ||