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 Burrows Island, WA    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: Vessels heading from Bellingham Bay south through Rosario Strait to the Strait of Juan de Fuca pass Burrows Island, where strong eddy lines and tide rips can be unpredictable. In 1897, the Lighthouse Board noted that traffic through Rosario Strait would be increasing and requested $15,000 for a light and fog signal on the southwest point of Burrows Island, which was a point of departure for vessels plying the strait.

The request was repeated annually until Congress finally appropriated the desired sum on February 24, 1903. The desired site was obtained through condemnation on June 28, 1904 for $350, and bids for the work were opened on May 10, 1905.

Aerial view of Burrows Island Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The wood-framed lighthouse was built using a design by C.W. Lieck, who also designed the somewhat similar Mukilteo Lighthouse around the same time period. The lighthouse consists of a thirty-four-foot-tall, square tower attached to a fog signal building, which originally held a Daboll trumpet. Burrows Island Lighthouse went into operation on April 1, 1906, and its white light with a red sector, shone from a fourth-order Fresnel lens, helped warn of the dangers of nearby Dennis Shoal and Lawson Reef. The characteristic of the light was fixed white until May 1, 1927, when it was changed to a group of two flashes every fifteen seconds.

Unbelievably, during the first three months of operation the fog signal never had to be sounded. The next year it blew for 329 hours and consumed 215 gallons of oil. The Daboll trumpet would sound four-second blasts separated alternately by silence intervals of seven and twenty-five seconds.

The shoreline of Burrows Island is primarily sheer rock with sharp drop-offs, while steep hills covered with evergreens or grass make up most of the island's interior. The light station was built on one of the few level spots on the island. Originally, the station included the combination light tower and fog signal building, a keepers' duplex, a boathouse, and a derrick. Later, a bungalow was built north of the duplex to house an additional keeper. A power plant was later added to provide electricity for the station, and every eight months the buoy tender Fir delivered enough fuel to keep the generators going.

In 1934, a keeper at Burrows Island ordered a milk cow. The tug Klatawa, tasked with making the delivery, was towing the cow on a small raft, when she jumped off about a mile from the island. The cow floundered about in the water until a rope was thrown around her horns, allowing the tug to complete the journey with the cow cutting the water with her nose.

On election day in 1960, Nancy Johnson cast her ballot for John F. Kennedy, and then traveled to Burrows Island with her two infant daughters, Jennifer and JoJo, to join her husband Richard, who had already been serving as officer-in-charge of the station for one month. During the Johnson's three-year stay on the island, a third daughter, Jill, was born. When Nancy started having contractions, she was taken by boat to the hospital in Anacortes.

To prevent any of their children from accidentally falling into the water, the Johnsons installed locks on all of their doors and made sure that someone always had an eye on the children when they were outside. The family also had a dog named Johnsy that helped look after the children and together with other dogs at the station sounded alerts when visitors arrived or when boats offshore were in trouble.

One summer the family was watching "Hawaii 5-0" on TV when they heard a commotion outside. "There was all this jumping, splashing, squealing, and grunting," Nancy recalls, and the family rushed outside to see their first pod of Orcas playing in the kelp beds near the island. Another sound frequently heard on the island, the fog signal, wasn't quite so welcomed, as one of the Johnson daughters would cry continuously until it stopped going off.

Andrew (Andy) and D'Wanda Giles were stationed on Burrows Island from January 1966 until June 1968. Frank Showers was the Officer in Charge (OIC) when the Gileses arrived, and Seaman Andrew Goodwin and his wife Stephanie were also serving at the station. D’Wanda remembers the spectacular view from the front windows of their living quarters that often included Orca pods, ferries plying to and from Vancouver Island, and occasionally planes from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island conducting bombing practice on a cluster of rocks in the water straight out from the island. The planes looked like they were dropping bags of flour, and a loud “WHOMP” could be heard as the makeshift bombs hit their target.

The OIC occupied a keeper’s bungalow while the Gileses resided in the duplex. Each side of the duplex had a foyer, living room, dining room, pantry, kitchen, and an enormous laundry room, complete with double sinks and a folding table, on the main floor, with two bedrooms, a huge bath, and storage on the second floor. A full attic, accessed by a rope ladder, provided more storage, and the basement was finished with workbenches. The Coast Guard furnished the duplex, providing a washer and dryer, vacuum cleaner, and all the paper products and cleaning materials.

When D'Wanda Giles and Stephanie Goodwin were pregnant in 1967, all three of the coastguardsmen had to watch an instructional film on delivering a baby, but luckily this training did not have to be called upon. Andy Giles received notice on the station’s radio when his first child, a daughter named Candace, was born, and then took thirty days of leave before bringing the infant back to the island. The men rotated shifts, and every third week received a weekend off. If the weather were good, they would often take one of the station’s boats and go to town to pick up the mail and any needed supplies.

The enlisted families had to alternate laundry days, as the power drain was otherwise too much for the diesel generator. If the foghorn were in operation, laundry would have to wait, and even the ovens couldn't be used. After the first soundings of the fog horn, the regular blasts would soon become background noise, and the families had to focus to notice the signal was even operating.

Nancy Nock lived on Burrows Island for three years starting in June of 1968. The week before she left, the station was connected to the power grid via a submarine cable. This change allowed unrestricted use of ovens and washing machines, and electric clocks were finally able to keep accurate time. When generators were being used, the electric clocks always ran fast or slow, so wind-up clocks were employed to keep time. The station's staff was reduced from three men to two in 1971, and the OIC move into the duplex from his bungalow, which was torn down.

Burrows Island Lighthouse was automated in 1972, when the remaining Coast Guard personnel left the station. The boathouse and keepers' dwelling were boarded up, and then in the early 1990s a modern optic replaced the Fresnel lens in the lantern room. A helicopter landing pad now stands where the keeper's bungalow was located, and a Fresnel lens, reportedly used at Burrows Island, can now be found at the Coast Guard Station in Port Angeles. (The lens on display doesn't seem to match any of the historic characteristics for Burrows Island.)

Forty acres of the island now make up Burrows Island State Park, which includes the light station and 1,000 feet of shoreline. A trail behind the lighthouse winds through groves of madronas to the top of the island, where the 650-foot climb is rewarded with a spectacular view of Rosario Strait.

On April 27, 2006 the availability of Burrows Island Light Station to an eligible entity was announced under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed paperwork on June 23, 2010 to begin the transfer of Burrows Island Lighthouse to the Northwest Schooner Society, and the Coast Guard cleaned up lead contamination at the site before the society obtained title to the property later that year. Northwest Schooner Society plans to create an interpretive center within the lighthouse itself and offer multi-day "Lighthouse Keeper Programs," where participants can stay in the Craftsman-esque keepers' duplex. Thanks to grants from Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington State Lighthouse Environmental Program, and Pacific Medical Centers, restoration of the station started in 2011 with the goal of having the building weather-tight and safe by fall. Please visit the society's Burrows Island Lighthouse website for information on helping with the restoration or visiting the station.

Head Keepers: James B. Hermann (1906 – 1907), Eugene M. Walters (1907), Edward Pfaff (1907), William J. Thomas (1907 – at least 1912), William Dahlgren (1920 - at least 1921), Daniel W. Clark (at least 1930), John Thomas O’Rourke (at least 1940).

References

  1. "In Focus - Nancy Johnson Remembers Burrows Light," The Focal Point, July 2007.
  2. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
  3. Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1998.
  4. Email from D'Wanda Giles, December, 2009.

Location: Located on the western tip of Burrows Island, two miles south of the ferry terminal near Anacortes.
Latitude: 48.47797
Longitude: -122.71353

For a larger map of Burrows Island Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: A distant view of the lighthouse is possible from the ferries from Anacrotes to the San Juan Islands. Look south with your binoculars shortly after the ferry departs Anacortes. A closer view of the lighthouse can be had by taking a Burrows Island Kayak Tour or may be possible from a Whale Watching Trip out of Anacortes. When the station is restored, Northwest Schooner Society will start offering access to the station.

The lighthouse is owned by Northwest Schooner Society. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Burrows Island Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
We took a kayak trip out of nearby Skyline Marina to get a close view of the lighthouse. The paddle around the island with a stop at the lighthouse took about three hours. Along the way, we observed some wildlife including a bald eagle, coyote, and several kingfishers. Our guide also pointed out the abundant marine life visible due to the extremely low tide, and she even had us sample some seaweed that was surprisingly not too bad.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.