North Head Lighthouse

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Postby Grover1 » Tue May 13, 2008 6:15 pm

From The Chinook Observer ...

Happy 110th birthday to North Head Lighthouse

For the Observer

NORTH HEAD - One of the most popular tourist attractions and notable historic landmarks in the North Coast area will observe a significant birthday anniversary later this month.

The North Head Lighthouse will be 110 years old, and the public is invited to a series of special events planned Saturday, May 17 and Sunday, May 18. A special program sponsored by the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway, called North Head 110, is planned from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.

Jon Schmidt, parks interpretive specialist for Long Beach area state parks, said the program will include "living history" reenactments that proved so popular locally during the Lewis and Clark Bicentenial observance in 2005.

Brianna Lichnovsky will portray the first woman lighthouse keeper in Washington state, Mabel Bretherton. Ms. Bretherton had been married to a lighthouse keeper in Oregon, and when he died she was hired as assistant keeper at the North Head Lighthouse.

Also participating in the reenactments will be three local residents portraying members of the Lifesaving Service that operated in the early days at the Columbia River entrance and nearby waters.

There will be guided tours of the lighthouse and the surrounding grounds on both Saturday and Sunday, and as a special feature the lighthouse keepers' residences will be opened to the public. These homes are maintained by the Washington State Parks Department as vacation rentals, but have never been opened to public inspection.

A lighthouse store and gift shop is operating in the old carriage house.

After the Cape Disappointment lighthouse was established in 1856 to mark the Columbia River entrance, mariners approaching the river from the north complained they could not see the light until they had nearly reached the river entrance. There was pressure to build an additional lighthouse in the area.

The answer was the North Head Lighthouse. Construction began in 1896, and its first beacon, fueled by coal oil, was lit for the first time on May 16, 1898. So that mariners could distinguish between the two beacons, North Head had a fixed white light while Cape Disappointment had alternate red and white flashes.

North Head is one of the windiest places in the U.S. In January 1921, winds were clocked at 126 miles per hour there, and the wind frequently has been measured at over 100 mph.

This is the second time I have written about the North Head Lighthouse for the Chinook Observer. Four years ago, in the early spring of 2004, I wrote what turned out to be my favorite feature story for that newspaper. It was about an improbable paint job slapped on the lighthouse in the summer of 1942, at the peak of the Pacific war scare, when the Army Engineers painted the lighthouse in camouflage colors to try to shield it from the enemy.

As an eyewitness to the special paint job commented years later, "the camouflage paint must have worked. The lighthouse is still here."

Only a few local residents are still around today who were there when the paint was applied in 1942, but I discovered two fellows who were. They were 18-year-old roustabouts fresh out of high school looking for a summer job before college. They were Warner Williams and his buddy Stan Lochrie, Jr., who lived a few houses apart on K Place in Seaview and grew up together as playmates.

Williams and Lochrie worked that summer for the Army Engineers, before they joined the military service in World War II. As luck would have it, they happened to be working at the lighthouse the day it was given its special camo coloring. Later that year, the government ordered coastal lighthouses darkened after a Japanese submarine fired at Fort Stevens across the river from North Head.

This year, as the lighthouse observes its 110th birthday, I was delighted to be asked to write about this special anniversary of one of the most famous tourist attractions in the North Coast area. Besides that, it remains as a working lighthouse, its bright beacon warning mariners of unseen hazards in fog and stormy waters.

The iconic lighthouse, featured on the cover of the annual Discovery Coast visitor's guide at least twice, remains near the top of the list of tourist attractions for visitors to the Long Beach Peninsula. On a clear day the view from the lantern room, 194 feet above sea level, is unsurpassed, making the climb of 69 steps of the circular staircase well worth while for visitors.

So the invitations have gone out. Come help the North Head Lighthouse celebrate its 110th on May 17 and May 18.

(Photo/Jon Schmidt)
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