|Cape Blanco, OR|
Description: Cape Blanco juts out one-and-a-half miles into the Pacific Ocean from Oregon's southern coast and terminates in a large headland with 200-foot cliffs along most of its perimeter. These chalky, white cliffs prompted early Spanish explorers to name this landmark, which is the most westerly point in Oregon, Cape Blanco or White Cape.
Before construction began on Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the site was covered with a dense spruce forest, but the trees had to be felled to prevent obstruction of the light. Besides producing a good supply of lumber, the deforestation also eliminated any chance of a forest fire endangering the station and reportedly diminished the amount of fog in the area.
Having every reason to believe that much money could be saved, if brick could be made at the cape instead of bringing them from San Francisco, at an enormous expense for transportation, an agreement was made with a person who lived in the vicinity, to furnish two hundred thousand brick, at the light-house site, for $25 per thousand, about a third the cost for transportation alone from San Francisco. About eighty thousand of these brick, made last fall, were of fair quality, and were accepted and paid for. The second kiln burned this spring were not of good enough quality, and were rejected.The remainder of the supplies required to construct the lighthouse had to be landed at the cape through the surf. The first delivery arrived in May of 1870. When the vessel was partially unloaded, a gale struck, driving the ship onto the beach and causing the loss of the remainder of the cargo. To provide a foundation for the lighthouse, the earth was excavated to a depth of five feet, and a four-foot-thick bed of concrete was poured. The circular, brick tower rose to a height of fifty feet, and an oil room was attached to its base. A two-story, brick duplex, with seven rooms on each side, was built 125 feet south of the tower. The principal keeper was assigned one side, while the two assistants shared the other.
Since the lighthouse was far from any harbor, its primary function was to warn ships away from the reefs, which extended from the cape, and to provide a position fix for navigators. The fixed white light from the tower's first-order, Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens was first exhibited on December 20, 1870 and served this function well. With a focal plane of 250 feet, the light could be see from up to twenty-three miles at sea.
The station's first principal keeper was Harvey B. Burnap, who was serving at Oregon's first lighthouse at Umpqua River when it collapsed in 1863. Burnap had been living in Port Orford, nine miles south of Cape Blanco, when he received his new assignment.
The town of Port Orford was established two decades before construction of the lighthouse. Louis Knapp, proprietor of the town's Knapp Hotel, was so concerned about the safety of the mariners navigating this dangerous section of the Oregon coast, that he kept a lantern burning nightly in the hotel's large window that overlooked the sea. Burnap's light burning brightly just up the coast made Knapp's lamp unnecessary.
Due to its exposed location, Cape Blanco was often buffeted by strong winds. The roof of the keepers' dwelling was seriously damaged by a gale in February 1878, and during another storm on October 14th of that year, a large portion of the roof was torn off and the walls of the gable damaged. The roof was repaired the following year, and solid shutters were installed on the exposed sides of the dwelling to prevent the windows from being broken during sand and gravel squalls.
Supplies had to be landed on the beach south of the station until a 7,000-foot roadway was built in 1885 to link up with the county road leading to Port Orford, the nearest landing. In 1888, mineral-oil lamps replaced the lard-oil lamps used inside the lens, and in 1890 a detached brick oil house was built to store the more volatile fuel.
By the late 1890s, Keeper Hughes had two children and Langlois five. Fortunately, the second assistant keeper, who lived with the families in the station's duplex, was single, but still the duplex was becoming crowded. The inspector requested the construction of an additional dwelling at the cape starting in 1897, but it took over ten years of requests before a one-and-a-half-story, frame dwelling was completed in 1910.
Around 1912, a hood was placed around the lamp, and a clockwork mechanism was used to raise and lower the hood to produce the following flashing signature: two-second eclipse, light for three seconds, two-second eclipse, light for thirteen seconds. In 1936, the original lens was replaced by a second-order revolving lens with eight bull's-eyes. The new lens, rotated by an electric motor powered by a generator, produced a white flash every twenty seconds. The motor and lens are still operating in the tower today.
A radiobeacon was placed in commission on the cape on November 30, 1925 to help mariners determine their location during periods of limited visibility. The beacon would transmit groups of three dashes followed by a dot. During the winter of 1932, severe storms swept the pacific northwest. Winds reached a velocity of 100 mph at Cape Blanco, ripping asbestos slates from roofs, blowing fences down, and driving pebbles like bullets through the lantern's plate glass.
The station was automated and de-staffed in 1980. Twelve years later, two local teenagers broke into the lighthouse and, using a sledgehammer, smashed one of the lens' bull's-eyes and six smaller prisms. The boys were eventually apprehended and convicted. After a nation-wide search, Larry Hardin, of Hardin Optical Company in nearby Bandon, was selected to repair the lens. By the spring of 1994, the lens had been restored using Corning Pyrex, at a cost of $80,000.
After the road to the station was completed, visitors occasionally came to see the lighthouse. Between 1896 and 1916, more than 4,000 visitors signed the guest book. After years of being off-limits, Cape Blanco Lighthouse was once again opened to visitors on April 1, 1996.
Full-time RVers often serve as docents at the lighthouse and in exchange receive a free campsite and hook-up at Cape Blanco State Park. In 1995, two such people, who also happened to be artists, painted an eight by twenty-foot mural inside the greeting center near the lighthouse. The mural depicts Oregon's coast with all nine remaining lighthouses.
In September 2002, the Fresnel lens was removed from the tower for restoration work as the caulking, which cemented the thousands of prisms to the brass frame, was starting to deteriorate. Hardin Optical of Bandon was again tasked to work on the lens, and succeeded in disassembling and recaulking the lens. The lighthouse itself underwent restorative work in the Spring of 2003, when the tower's copper roof and lantern room windows were replaced, and the brickwork was repaired and painted. Shortly after Memorial Day of 2003, the reunited tower and lens were once again open to visitors.
Cape Blanco's two keepers' dwellings, oil house, water tower, and other utility buildings are all long gone, but the majestic tower, the centerpiece of the station, remains, and visitors are allowed to ascend the spiral staircase to the lantern room, for a view of the repaired lens and surrounding coastline.
Head Keepers: Harvey B. Burnap (1870 – 1874), Charles W. Tracey (1874), Charles H. Pierce (1874 – 1883), James S. Langlois (1883 – 1917), James Hughes (1917 - 1926), Walter Mabin (1926 – 1936), Orlo E. Hayward (1936 – at least 1940).
The southernmost of the Oregon lights, Cape Blanco Lighthouse is located roughly 65
miles from the California border, or a couple miles north of Port Orford. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Grounds/tower open in season.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Grounds/tower open in season.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.