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 Alki Point, WA    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Interior open or museum on site.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.
Description: Alki, the Washington State Motto, is a Chinook Indian word meaning "by and by." In November of 1851, twenty-four people from the schooner Exact landed at present-day Alki Point and formed a colony. The settlers called their new home New York, however, when its growth was markedly slower than that of its east coast counterpart, the name was changed to New York-Alki. Today, the community is known simply as Alki. A monument commemorating the landing of the original colonists, which led to the development of the Seattle area, is found at the intersection of Alki Avenue and 63rd Avenue.

Alki Point Lighthouse with foghorns
Photograph courtesy University of Washington
Alki Point marks the southern entrance to Seattle's Elliott Bay, and a 320-acre parcel of land that included the point was sold to Hans Martin Hanson and his brother-in-law Knud Olson in 1868 for $450. At night, the pair would reportedly light a lamp on the point as a service to mariners. In 1887, the Lighthouse Service finally recognized the need for an official light and placed a lens-lantern atop a wooden post at the point. Hanson was hired to care for the light and was paid $15 a month for his efforts. A lighthouse tender would off-load several barrels of coal oil every six months to fuel the beacon. When Hans passes away in 1900, his son Edmund inherited the property at Alki Point along with the official job of lightkeeper. The family, however, had been sharing responsibility for the light for several years and would continue to do so for some time.

In 1895, the Lighthouse Board requested $6,000 for establishing a fog bell and a suitable dwelling at Alki Point. This request was repeated until the desired amount was appropriated by an act approved on June 28, 1902. Five years later, a site for the fog signal still had not been obtained, and another $8,000 was allocated for the project. An act of June 17, 1910 provided another $33,000 for the work, which had been expanded to include a light, raising the total authorized sum to $47,000.

After the government purchased an octagonal parcel at the tip of the point from Edumund Hanson for a sum of $9,999, the present concrete fog signal building with attached, thirty-seven-foot octagonal tower was completed on April 29, 1913, and the station was activated a few weeks later on June 1.

The fourth-order Fresnel lens used in the tower was manufactured in Paris by L. Sautter and Lemonnier and contained multiple bull's-eyes. A clockwork mechanism, powered by suspended weights, was used to rotate the lens and produce a group of five white flashes every ten seconds. To assist mariners in times of fog, two four-horsepower, oil engines were used to fill a tank of compressed air, which was then directed over a reed found in trumpets mounted on the north, east, and south walls of the lighthouse. Two frame dwellings were constructed for the keepers, and an oil house was completed in 1913.

Harry Mahler was the first head keeper at Alki Point. Before coming to the station, he had served as an assistant keeper at New Dungeness lighthouse, starting in 1888, and then as head keeper at Patos Island (1893 - 1903), Cape Meares (1903 - 1907), and West Point (1907 - 1913). Keeper Mahler retired in 1930 at the age of sixty-five, after forty-two years of service.

As dependable commercial electric current was available at the point in 1919, a three-horsepower electric motor was installed in placed of one of the oil engines. The upgrade saved money, took up less space, and was less of a fire hazard. The electric motor drove a hydroturbine compressor, in which twice during each revolution water alternately entered and receded from the rotor, acting as a piston to produce thirty cubic feet of compressed air per minute at ten pounds per square inch.

One of the head keepers of Alki Point had an interesting hobby to which he devoted many hours while keeping an eye on the light. Charles N. Elliott was known as a "one-man reference library" as a result of the time he spent researching the works of Walt Whitman and collecting many original works and postcards written by the poet. In a newspaper article, Elliott commented "watching the light on long foggy nights leaves me plenty of time to sit in my library," and Elliott used that time to become an expert on Whitman. Eliott even published a collection of writings on Whitman made by the poet's friends entitled "Walt Whitman, as Man, Poet and Friend."

Aerial view of Alki Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A sign in front of the lighthouse notes that Alki Point Lighthouse is one of thirteen along the shores of Puget Sound, and that one of the last two civilian lighthouse keepers retired at the light in 1970. This keeper was Albert Anderson, who joined the Lighthouse Service in 1927 and was stationed first on the Columbia River Lightship. When the Coast Guard assumed control of lighthouses in 1939, the keepers could either join the Coast Guard or serve as civilian keepers. Anderson chose the latter option and served at Tillamook Rock and Cape Blanco before transferring to Alki Point in 1950.

In 1962, Alki Point's fourth-order Fresnel lens was replaced with an airway beacon, a rotating, reflecting light similar to those used at airports. This new beacon showed a flash every five seconds and was six times brighter than the Fresnel lens, which is now on display at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

Coast Guardsmen assigned to Alki Point still stood eight-hour shifts, turned on the airway beacon one-half hour before sunset, and switched it off one-half hour after sunrise up until October 1984, when the station was fully automated.

After automation, one of the two keepers' dwellings was remodeled to house the Commander of the 13th Coast Guard District, while the second dwelling housed a resident keeper. The Commander later moved to Medina, and the two dwellings were home to senior Coast Guard officers. Two years after the fog signal at Alki Point was discontinued in 2005, the Commander moved back to the station.

The original lens-lantern used at Alki Point was on display in the lighthouse until the early 1970s, when a thief broke in and stole the lantern. Although law enforcement was notified, the perpetrator could not be tracked down. A few years later, a woman showed up in Seattle inquiring about the value of a lantern that her late husband had purchased from an antique dealer in Southern California. The dealer in Seattle had a suspicion that the lens might have come from Alki Point and notified the police. By contacting the dealer in Southern California, the seller of the lantern was identified and arrested. Amazingly, his fingerprints were still on the lantern, which helped lead to his conviction. The lens lantern is now safely displayed at the Coast Guard Museum in Seattle, and a replica is exhibited at the lighthouse.

Head Keepers: Harry D. Mahler (1913 1930), Charles M. Elliott (at least 1939 - at least 1940), Albert G. Anderson (1950 1970).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1990.
  3. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.

Location: Located on the Alki Peninsula across Elliott Bay from downtown Seattle.
Latitude: 47.57629
Longitude: -122.42056

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


Travel Instructions: From Highway 99 south of Seattle, take Spokane Street west across the two bridges. Turn right onto Harbor Avenue, which after a while will become Alki Avenue, and follow it around the edge of the bay to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse and tower are open for tours on Saturday and Sunday from June through August from 1 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, call (206) 841-3519.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower open during tours, dwellings closed.

Find the closest hotels to Alki Point Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
There was a Fresnel lens on display inside the Alki Point Lighthouse during a visit in 2006, but it was never used on site. Text posted above the fourth-order lens, which carried the markings of Henry-LePaute, stated that the lens was used at the Sentinel Island Lighthouse in Alaska and the lens used at Alki Point was on display at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, where it had also previously been used.

Later that day, we paid a visit to Admiralty Head Lighthouse and saw the Sautter and Lemonnier lens used in the Alki Point Lighthouse. Adjacent to this multi-bull's-eyed lens was a fixed Sautter & Cie lens that was also identified as having been used at Sentinel Island in Alaska.

Marilyn writes:
You definitely need to try to visit this lighthouse when it is open for tours. Otherwise, it is impossible to get a good look at the lighthouse. We visited the lighthouse once when it was not open and found one of the tenants of the keeper's dwellings putting up "Beware of the Dog" signs on the chain-link fence around the property. I doubt that there is a ferocious dog there, but based on the scowl we received from the lady posting the signs, I would think twice about disturbing the occupants. I do realize that the tenants will change periodically, but the lighthouse should be considered inaccessible outside of tour hours.

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