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Light Fixtures: Lighthouses of the Northwest Coast
Published: 06/12/2012
Cape Meares Lighthouse, 10 miles west of Tillamook, is the shortest of all the historic lighthouses on the Northwest coast.
Cape Meares Lighthouse, 10 miles west of Tillamook, is the shortest of all the historic lighthouses on the Northwest coast.
Gary Hayes

From Cape Disappointment in southwest Washington to Yaquina Bay on Oregon's Central coast, there are seven historic lighthouses with tales to tell. Here's a quick tour of some interesting facts about the iconic lighthouses of the Northwest Coast.

Each of the lighthouses between the Columbia River and Newport played a critical role in the maritime history of the West. That's where the similarities end. Each lighthouse has its own story and unique characteristics that set it apart.

Short Story: Cape Meares Lighthouse, 10 miles west of Tillamook, is the shortest lighthouse on the Northwest Coast. First lit in 1890 this vertically challenged tower is just 38 feet tall, but stands on a high bluff 216 feet above sea level, pretending to be one of the big guys.

First Aid: The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse near Ilwaco, Washington is the oldest of the Northwest's lighthouses, built in 1856. The light, also a disappointment, couldn't be seen by ships sailing from the north, so they had to build a second lighthouse two miles away and farther west.

Blow Hard: The 65-foot North Head Lighthouse stands on a craggy cliff in Cape Disappointment State Park, occupying the windiest lighthouse site on the West Coast, with winds of 120 mph recorded.

Rock and Roll: Perched on an outcropping of rock a mile and a half off a rocky headland, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was the most dangerous to build. In 1879 when a surveyor was sent to the site, he fell into the turbulent sea and was drowned. Many harrowing construction moments followed. "Terrible Tilly" was first lighted in 1881 and decommissioned in 1957. The lighthouse can be viewed from the beach in Seaside or Cannon Beach, but the best vantage point for observation is from the viewpoint at Ecola State Park.

Wooden Wonder: The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse at Newport is the only wooden lighthouse on the Oregon coast. Built in 1871, it is the oldest existing structure in Newport and is open to visitors. It served as a navigational aid for only three years - slacker!

Tall Tale: The Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport is Oregon's tallest lighthouse, standing 93 feet high on a site 162 feet above sea level. It was built in 1873.

Wet & Wild: Okay, it's not a traditional lighthouse, but the Columbia River Lightship was the first lightship on the Pacific coast. The Columbia was anchored five miles out, guiding vessels into the notoriously treacherous entrance to the Columbia River. It was built in 1950 and decommissioned in 1979. The 128-foot ship withstood gale force winds and 30-foot waves, bobbing like a cork and giving all 18 men aboard severe mal de mer. One of only six of its kind, she is now docked in Astoria at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. - By Stella Bennett

  • Published in: Online Extras Summer 2012
  • Click to see other items about: Lighthouses, History
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