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Images of North Head Light, in Washington State

On a recent business trip to the West Coast, have been fortunate enough to be able to take time off to enjoy the coastline of the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

In the Cape Disappointment State Park on the bottom end of Long Beach Peninsula, located southwest of Ilwaco, Washington State, there two lovely lighthouses in close proximity to each other. Cape Disappointment was pointedly named so in 1788 by John Meares, a British a navigator and maritime fur trader, having failed to navigate the treacherous sandbar at the mouth of the Columbia River and reach inland to trade furs with the native Indians. The need for a lighthouse become clear by the middle of the 19th century, and Cape Disappointment Lighthouse became fully operational in 1856 to mark the north end on the mouth of the Columbia River.

The construction of a second lighthouse in close proximity was necessitated soon after the construction of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, when mariners were complaining that the light was obscured to ships approaching from the north by the headland extending southwest from the light; in reality, mariners could not see the light until they had nearly reached the river. Their cry for an additional lighthouse was supported by the many shipwrecks that occurred along the Long Beach Peninsula, just north of the cape, in a part of coast notorious for its unpredictable weather, tidal rips, heavy fog, extremely strong winds, and the ever shifting sandbar at the mouth of the Columbia River. The area has been nicknamed "The Graveyard of the Pacific" with more than 2,000 shipwrecks have taken place in the area.

Long Beach Peninsula and Cape Disappointment

In 1893, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of an additional lighthouse on North Head, with a $50,000 budget, and the lighthouse was operational by the end of 1897, complete with of the tower, two oil houses and the metalwork on top of the tower. The North Head Light was designed by Carl Leick, and made of brick masonry built atop a sandstone foundation and finished with a cement plaster overlay. Sixty-nine steps lead to the lantern room, which is sixty-five feet from the ground (20 m) and 194 feet above sea level, directly facing the ocean and clearly visible to ships traveling from the north. The first-order, Louis Sautter & Co. Fresnel lens, which was transferred from Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, was lit for the first time on May 16, 1898. Since North Head is only two miles north of Cape Disappointment, the two lights needed distinct signatures. A fixed-white characteristic was chosen for North Head, while Cape Disappointment displayed alternating red and white flashes.

North Head is one of the windiest places in the United States, with wind velocities in excess of 100 mph being frequently measured. The incline of several pine trees in the accompanying pictures can clearly attest to it.

Congress approved the transfer of North Head Lighthouse to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission in 1983. Title to the lighthouse was finally transferred in October 2012 to Washington State Parks, who in conjunction with the Keepers of North Head Lighthouse soon began some of the roughly $2 million in repairs the lighthouse required. Two of the Fresnel lenses used at North Head Lighthouse have been preserved. The first-order lens, which was on display outside the lighthouse in 1951, can now be seen at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center inside Cape Disappointment State Park, and the fourth-order lens is housed at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. North Head is the most intact light station in the Pacific Northwest. All of its original buildings remaining standing, including the tower, two oil houses, two residences, a barn, chicken coop, and garages.


Additional images, please on Karatzas Images website.


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