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 Browns Point, WA    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Interior open or museum on site.Volunteer keeper program offered.
Description: Browns Point is situated on the eastern side of the entrance to Commencement Bay, which leads from Puget Sound to the port of Tacoma. A lens lantern situated on a post was established at the point on December 12, 1887, the same day a similar marker was added to Point Robinson, six-and-a-half miles northwest of Browns Point.

It's presently hard to imagine, but at that time Browns Point was considered remote, and the point and the hills above were covered with timber. A contract keeper was hired to row to the point weekly to clean the glass, trim the wick, and refuel the tank. At the time, Browns Point was part of the Puyallup Indian Reservation, and the point was owned by an Indian named Joe Douette. Washington would become a state two years later in 1889.

Light and fog bell tower built in 1903
Fog posed a problem for shipping in the area, but it would not be until 1903 that a larger tract of land on Browns Point was acquired, a wooden tower with a fog bell was erected, and a keeper's house was built. The Lighthouse Board first requested $6,000 for a fog bell struck by machinery for Brown Point in 1895, but Congress didn't provide the funds until June 5, 1900. The price demanded for the additional land was deemed excessive, so the land was condemned and the case was tried in the U. S. Circuit Court. The court ruled that $3,000 should be awarded to the owner of the property, and due to this unexpectedly high amount, another $3,200 had to be appropriated by Congress on June 28, 1902 before the project could commence.

Plans for the station were approved on September 22, 1902, and a $5,300 contract was entered into on March 5, 1903. The two-story tower had a light attached midway up its western side and the fog bell was suspended under the gable roof. The bell was cast in 1855 by Bernard & Co. of Philadelphia and was brought around the horn aboard the Shubrick, the first lighthouse tender to serve the Pacific Coast. The bell served at the New Dungeness and Point No Point stations before being installed at Browns Point. October 26, 1903 was the date of the first lighting of the new tower.

The station's first resident keeper, Oscar Brown, arrived at the point by boat accompanied by his wife Annie, a piano, other furnishings, and a horse and cow. The animals were lowered to the water by a sling and then swam ashore. Brown was an accomplished musician, and, as the area was settled, he began giving piano and cornet lessons. Keeper Brown also planted an orchard populated with apple, pear, and cherry trees and also maintained a flower garden featuring daffodils, tulips, peonies, and roses.

In addition to the tower and dwelling, a boat house and oil house were also constructed on the point. The boat house sheltered the station's row boat, which Brown used to reach the tower when high tide covered the mud flat between the tower and the dwelling. (The swamp was filled in and the grounds graded in 1918.) Brown also rowed south to Tacoma periodically to pick up supplies and mail and to attend music concerts. The oil house originally stood near the tower, but was moved near the boat house after the light was electrified in 1922. The electric light displayed a group of three flashes every fifteen seconds.

Browns Point is said to be the point on Puget Sound with the longest periods of dense fog. When the fog settled around the point, Keeper Brown wouldn't get much rest as the striking mechanism for the 1,200-pound bell had to be wound every forty-five minutes. However, interrupted sleep was preferable to the times when the machinery failed. Then, Brown's wife Annie would time the prescribed twenty-second intervals and signal her husband to strike the bell.

Keeper Brown kept a close watch on the waters near Browns Point and was quick to lend assistance to anyone in need of help. On September 8, 1917, he rescued three Japanese from drowning near the light station and furnished them dry clothing. Five years later, Oscar Brown towed a disabled fishing boat to a nearby wharf and then repaired its machinery so it could get underway again.

Aerial view of Browns Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
After Brown had served thirty years at the station, the wooden tower was replaced by the current thirty-four-foot concrete structure, which originally sported a lantern room. The fog bell was replaced by an electric foghorn, and the bell was given to the College of Puget Sound (today's University of Puget Sound), where it signaled the class hours. The bell was dedicated in a ceremony held during the college's annual founders day ceremony on February 20, 1934, during which Superintendent Ralph Tinkham spoke on the Lighthouse Service and Keeper Brown gave a history of the bell. In 1984, the bell was installed in the Fox Island Alliance Church, where it remained until July 25, 2000. On that date, the bell was returned to Browns Point where it is housed in the old pump house. A bowling ball now serves as the clapper for ringing the bell.

A commemorative tablet was placed on the new, thirty-four-foot lighthouse on May 26, 1934 by the Browns Point Garden Club. The tablet bears the following inscription: "This tablet in memory of May 26, 1792, when Capt. George Vancouver and his associates dined at this point." The superintendent and Keeper Brown were again called upon to make remarks on the occasion.

After thirty-six years at Browns Point, Keeper Brown retired in 1939 when the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the light. Could it be that Browns Point was named for the point's long-time keeper? Well, perhaps indirectly. The point was known as Point Brown long before Oscar Brown arrived on the scene. The origin of the name Point Brown is not known for sure, but might have been due to the brown Madrona trees that covered the area. A map made subsequent to the arrival of Keeper Brown labels the land as Brown's Point, perhaps because people thought it was Oscar Brown's point. The apostrophe in the name was later dropped.

Browns Point only had a couple of keepers. Arthur Woods served during the early 1940s and Cyril Beaulieu watched over the light in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Light keeping at Browns Point officially ended in 1963 when Bob Deason, the last keeper, left, and the light was automated. After automation of the light, the diaphragm foghorn was activated via a telephone call from Foss Launch and Tug Company.

One year after automation, Browns Point was converted to a public park, which has a large grassy area ideal for a picnic. The keeper's dwelling has been restored by the Points Northeast Historical Society and is currently available for weekly rentals by modern day lighthouse keepers. The resident keepers are required to conduct tours and perform daily, light chores.

The restored keeper's cottage is furnished with antiques and houses a history museum, while a replica surfboat and historic maritime items are found in the boathouse.

Head Keepers: Head Keepers: Oscar V. Brown (1903 1939), Arthur J. Woods (1939 - 1944), Cyril Dazel Beaulieu (1944 1956), William Covington (1956 - 1957), Harold Nelsm (1957 - 1960), Robert Deason (1960 - 1963).

Photo Gallery: 1

References

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

Location: Located in Browns Point Lighthouse Park, at the entrance to Commencement Bay, Tacoma's port.
Latitude: 47.30591
Longitude: -122.44429

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


Travel Instructions: From I-5 east of Tacoma, take Exit 136 and go north on Port of Tacoma Road. Turn right onto Highway 509 and continue for seven miles. Turn left on Le Lou Wa Pl and continue on Tok A Lou Avenue to the lighthouse.

The surrounding park is open from dawn to dusk. Tours of the keeper's dwelling and other structures are given on Saturdays between 1 and 4 p.m. from April through November. Call (253) 927-2536 for more information. The keeper's dwelling is available for weekly rentals.

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

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