Lighthouses of the Oregon Coast

Oregon has 11 lighthouses on its coast, I now have photos of all 11 of them. They aren’t the best photos in the world, they certainly aren’t worth making into a calendar or anything, but I had fun going to all of them and exploring the area. Of the 11, 2 are private homes and 2 others are now closed to the public, but I took photos of them anyway. Since the South Coast gets less attention (because it’s farther away from Portland), and because all the websites I can find list the lighthouses starting in the north and heading south, I will start at the bottom of Oregon and go up.

Pelican Bay Light in Brookings
Pelican Bay Light or Brookings Harbor Light

The southernmost lighthouse in Oregon is Pelican Bay Light in Brookings, it is also the newest. It is privately owned and is a private residence, I still took a photo of it from a nearby parking lot.  Pelican Bay Light, or Port of Brookings Light, was built in 1990 as an addition to an existing house. The house was moved in 1997 to it’s current location overlooking Brookings Harbor and the mouth of the Chetco River. The lighthouse was officially commissioned on July4, 1999. It sits on a bluff 141 feet above sea level, the tower itself is 35 feet high and the light has a range of 11 nautical miles.

Incoming storm at Cape Blanco
Cape Blanco

Going north the next lighthouse is at Cape Blanco, about 4 miles north of Port Orford. This is one that I would like to go back to, we visited during the winter when the lighthouse is closed, I got some alright photos, but I would love to get closer and maybe take the tour during the summer months. Construction was completed in 1870 and it was first lit on December 20 of that year, making it Oregon’s oldest lighthouse. It is still in use today. Cape Blanco Light sits 245 feet above the ocean, the tower is made of brick and stands 59 feet high.  Its light can be seen for 23 nautical miles.

Cape Blanco Light
Cape Blanco Light

Coquille River Light was formerly known as Bandon Light, and I think it might be my favorite. It is located at Bullards Beach State Park, just north of Bandon. The first time Les and I went there we sat on the rocks by the lighthouse for more than an hour and watched some harbor seals play. Bandon Light was first lit on Leap Day, February 29, 1896, it was decommissioned 43 years later in 1939 and abandoned. It was restored in 1979 by Bullard Beach State Park personnel with assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers. The cylindrical tower is 40 feet high, and is attached to an elongated octagonal room that used to house the fog signal equipment, it’s unique shape is quite recognizable and is used frequently in marketing for the Bandon area (it’s also the reason it might be my favorite). The lighthouse was originally built with a trumpet foghorn that protruded from the western wall, however, certain weather conditions made it so that the sound couldn’t be heard at sea. So in 1910 the trumpet was replaced by a more reliable fog siren. While the new siren was favorable for mariners, many Bandon residents did not like it. The Coquille River Light had a range of 12 nautical miles. 

Coquille River lighthouse, formerly Bandon Light, at Bullards Beach State park.
Coquille River lighthouse, formerly Bandon Light, at Bullards Beach State park.

The closest lighthouse to our house is Cape Arago Light, it’s about 5 miles from our house, in Charleston. Unfortunately it is only visible from the surrounding parks so I don’t have a close up shot. The current lighthouse is the third one to stand just south of the entrance to Coos Bay. The first one was lit on November 1, 1866, it was a 25 foot octagonal tower supported by iron stilts.  Then, on July 1, 1909, a second lighthouse was completed, both of these fell victim to weather and erosion. The current 44 foot tall lighthouse was built in 1934, of reinforced concrete. In 1996 the lighthouse was automated and it continued to operate until it was decommissioned on January 1, 2006. When it shone, the light could be seen for 14 nautical miles. 

Cape Arago Lighthouse
Cape Arago Lighthouse

 

Umpqua River Lighthouse at night
Umpqua River Lighthouse at night

About 33 miles to the north is Umpqua River Light, located at the mouth of Winchester Bay. The original lighthouse built on this location was the first one ever built on the Oregon Coast, it was originally lit on October 10, 1857. But it was built on an a sandy plain, prone to seasonal flooding and it lasted only 7 years before it collapsed. It wasn’t until 1888 that another lighthouse was approved, construction began in 1982 and the current lighthouse was first lit on  December 31, 1894. The newer lighthouse was built on a ridge 100 feet above the river so it is safe fromt the flooding that brought down its predecessor. Umpqua River Light is a 61 foot tall cylindrical tower whose red and white light has a range of 21 nautical miles. This is the only lighthouse I’ve ever visited at night and it was awesome. It was misty out (such a rare thing on the Oregon Coast!) and you could see the alternating beams in the air. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the alternating beams on the trees behind the lighthouse. 

Umpqa River light, at the mouth of Winchester Bay, about 6 miles south of Reedsport.
Umpqa River light, at the mouth of Winchester Bay, about 6 miles south of Reedsport.

 

Haceta Head
Haceta Head

Haceta Head Light is the most photographed lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, this is due to the fact that there is an incredible view of it right on Hwy. 101 right next to a giant tourist attraction, the Sea Lion Caves, about 12 miles north of Florence. Les and I have stopped here several times, but my favorite photo is the one I took the first time we saw it. The view is often described as a postcard view, I think it’s appropriate. Named for Spanish explorer Bruno de Haceta who explored the Pacific northwest in the late 18th century, Haceta Head Light sits 205 feet above the ocean, it is 56 feet tall and its light is the most powerful on the Oregon Coast, shining nearly 22 miles out to sea. Haceta Head Light and Umpqua River Light are nearly identical (though they are different sizes) since they were built from the same basic plans. Construction began in 1892, because the lighthouse was in such a secluded location, building materials were shipped in if the weather and tide permitted, otherwise they were brought by wagon from Florence, which took  four or five hours. Stones were brought from the Clackamas River and bricks from San Francisco. The lighthouse was completed in August 1893 and its light first shone on  March 30, 1894. The site was rennovated beginning in 2011 and it reopened in 2013 and now looks as close as possible to how it did when it first opened. The keepers quarters that were built alongside the lighthouse now serve as a (supposedly haunted) bed and breakfast. This is another one that I wouldn’t mind doing a tour of, although we probably won’t since it’s so popular and I tend to hate crowds (and people in general, really). 

Cleft of the Rock
Cleft of the Rock Light

Cleft of the Rock Light is the other private residence lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, it is just north of Cape Perpetua, about 2 miles south of Yachats (which, apparently, is pronounced like you’re trying to cough up phlegm). It was built by a former keeper at Tillamook Rock Light as part of his private residence in 1976. In 1979 the Coast Guard designated it as an official private navigational aid. Cleft of the Rock stands 110 feet above the ocean an its light has a range of more than 16 nautical miles. It is closed to the public as it is a private residence, but it is viable from Hwy. 101, so I took a photo of some guy’s house – creepy? Maybe, but I wanted photos of all the lighthouses. Besides I just took a photo and left, so what if it was through the trees? Supposedly the name comes from a Christian Hymn.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

In the town of Newport is the Oregon Coast’s only wood lighthouse, Yaquina Bay Light. It has two other distinctions that make it unique on the Oregon Coast, it was the shortest lived lighthouse, since the nearby Yaqina Head Light made it obsolete, and also the only lighthouse in which the keepers living quarters are housed in the same building as the light. Les and I visited this lighthouse when we went to Newport for his birthday, we stopped on our lunch break from the aquarium (helpful tip – don’t pay aquarium prices for lunch if you can get back in on the same ticket). Built by Ben Simpson and first lit on November 3, 1871, it was active for only 3 years and was decommissioned on October 1, 1874. From 1888 to 1896 the Army Corps of Engineers used the lighthouse as a living quarters while they built the North and South Jetties at the mouth of Yaquina Bay. The Coast Guard also used it as living quarters from 1906 to 1915. The living quarters now serve as a museum. Yaquina Bay Light has been slated for demolition twice, once in 1946 and again in 1951, but was saved by a historical society which set up the museum. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and restored in 1974. On December 7, 1996, the light was re-lit, using a lens loaned to the lighthouse from historian James A. Gibbs, builder of Cleft of the Rock Light, that light is visible for 6 nautical miles. 

_MG_3940Less than 5 miles to the north is Yaquina Head Light, the lighthouse that made Yaquina Bay Light obsolete. With a 93 feet tall brick conical tower, it is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse. Yaquina Head Light was built from 1871 to 1873 by the Army Corps of Engineers and it was first lit August 20, 1973, it was automated in 1966. Since it was originally called Cape Foulweather Lighthouse, a myth was perpetuated that the lighthouse was originally intend to be placed elsewhere (Cape Fouleweather is 6 miles north of Yaquina Bay), however this has been disproved by original maps and plans. Its light can be seen for nearly 19 nautical miles and it still uses its original lens that was manufactured in Paris in 1868 and shipped from France to Panama, transported across the isthmus, then shipped again to Oregon. Since it is located in an Outstanding Natural Area with an interpretive center and incredible tide pools, it is a very popular tourist destination. Les and I had the dogs when we visited this lighthouse, and that was probably not the best idea, there were people everywhere and Jet got a little overexcited as he tends to do.

View of Yaquina Head Light
View of Yaquina Head Light
Cape Meares Light
Cape Meares Light

After the tallest we come to the shortest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, Cape Meares Light, located just south of Tillamook Bay. Although the tower is only 38 feet tall, it sits on a cliff 200 feet above the ocean and its light had a 21 nautical mile range. First lit on January 1, 1890, Cape Meares Light was originally powered by a fire-wick kerosene lamp, in 1934 the lighthouse received electricity and the oil houses were removed. It remained active until  1963 when it was replaced by a smaller, but equally powerful, automated electric light on a steel tower. The next year plans were made to demolish the lighthouse, but the plans fell through after public outcry. The lighthouse was reopened to the public in 1980. In January of 2010 two men fired a gun into the lens, which is visible and in-line with the trail, there was additional vandalism to a nearby grassy area.  A Tillamook County District Court judge  ordered the two men to pay $100,000 to the lighthouse and serve three 16-day jail terms over three years.

Cape Meares Light, the shortest on the Oregon Coast
Cape Meares Light, the shortest on the Oregon Coast
Tillamook Rock Light
Tillamook Rock Light

The northern most lighthouse on the Oregon Coast is Tillamook Rock Light, located 1.2 miles offshore, it is about 20 miles south of the Columbia River. Construction began in 1880 and took more than 500 days to complete. In January 1881, when the lighthouse was near completion, the  English ship Lupatia wrecked near the rock during a storm and sank, all 16 crew members aboard were killed, but the crew’s dog survived. Tillamook Rock Light  was officially lit on January 21, 1881, its light had a range of 18 nautical miles. Built of basalt masonry, iron, and brick, it was the most expensive lighthouse ever built on the West Coast at the time. Because of the frequent storms, dangerous commute, and isolation it was nicknamed “Terrible Tilly.” It was manned by five keepers, four on duty at the lighthouse and one onshore on leave, every three weeks a boat returned the man on leave and brought provisions and mail. Throughout its history, Terrible Tilly was hit by large, violent storms that damaged the lighthouse with large waves, winds, and debris, and on several occasions, the tower was flooded after the lantern room windows were broken. During a storm in 1896, a rock weighing 135 pounds crashed through the roof and into the kitchen of the keeper’s quarters and, during a storm in 1912, 100 tons of rock were reportedly shorn off the western end of the islet. On October 21, 1934 the original lens was destroyed by a large storm with winds of 109 miles per hour, it also leveled parts of the tower railing and greatly damaged the landing platform. Repairs to the lighthouse cost $12,000 and were not fully completed until February 1935, a metal mesh was placed around the lantern room to protect the tower from large debris. By September 10, 1957 when it was shut down, Tillamook Rock had become the most expensive lighthouse to operate in the entire country. In 1980 the lighthouse was purchased and the Eternity at Sea Columbarium was created. The island is also part of the Oregon Island National Wildlife Refuge and many seabirds nest there. The only way to access the island is by helicopter, and it is off-limits even to the owners during the seabird nesting season. I took my photos from Ecola State Park, just south of Seaside. I twas pretty foggy while we were there so I didn’t get the best photos, but I think it kind of adds to the mystique of the lighthouse with such and interesting history. Maybe one of these days I’ll make it back on a less foggy day and get some clearer photos. 

View of Terrible Tilly
View of Terrible Tilly

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