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 Heceta Head, OR    
A hike of some distance required.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Overnight lodging available.Volunteer keeper program offered.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Boo! Lighthouse haunted.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: When God created the earth, He spent a little extra time on the Oregon Coast. And it's as if He personally selected the location for Heceta Head Lighthouse.

It's magical.

Perched on a breathtaking bluff 150 feet above the sea, Heceta Head Lighthouse is one of the most-visited lighthouses in the United States, drawing thousands of visitors each year to sense its history, feel its romantic aura, and enjoy its spectacular setting.

Heceta Head Lighthouse with Needle's Eye
Photograph courtesy Western Washington University
In 1775, Don Bruno Heceta, sailing for the Royal Spanish Navy, set out from San Blas, Mexico with forty-five men and sufficient provisions for a year-long mission to reach the Arctic Circle. Heceta made it as far as the Columbia River before turning back due to concern for his sailors, who were stricken with scurvy. During his shortened journey, Heceta made note of the prominent headland, which now bears his name.

In 1888, the Lighthouse Board recommended that a first-order lighthouse be constructed on Heceta Head and estimated the cost would be $80,000. On March 2, 1889, Congress passed an act appropriating $80,000 for purchasing the site and constructing the lighthouse. The site was acquired from a private party along with a right-of-way for constructing a seven-mile-long wagon road to connect the lighthouse with the nearest public highway.

It's hard to imagine, looking at the site today with its sweeping Northwest forests, that there was very little vegetation when the lighthouse was constructed. A forest fire had swept through the area a few years earlier, wiping everything out. The barren landscape of the time can be seen in the photograph at right, which shows the lighthouse and the keeper's dwelling through the Needle's Eye.

Separate contracts were awarded for erecting the tower, providing the tower's metalwork, and constructing the keeper's dwellings, barn, and oil house. The lowest received bids of $5,000 for the metalwork and $13,700 for the tower were accepted in November 1891, but as the lowest bidder for the dwelling was unable to secure a bondsman, this work had to be re-advertised. New bids for this work were opened on February 11, 1892, and a $20,470 contract was awarded to the lowest bidder later that month.

Construction of the lighthouse and other structures began in 1892. Lumber was procured from local mills, while masonry and cement came from San Francisco and the rock used in the base of the tower was quarried from the Clackamas River near Oregon City. Laborers were paid $2 a day and worked an average of ten hours a day. The highest-paid carpenter received $4 a day. The contractor for the dwellings, barn, and oil house completed his work in January 1893, but due to additional excavation needed for the tower, it was not completed until the following August. The lens was landed at the station in October and set up over the next two months, but delays in receiving the lamps from the general lighthouse depot on Staten Island, New York postponed the first exhibition of the light until March 30, 1894. The first head keeper responsible for the light was Andrew Hald.

Heceta Head's keepers' dwellings
The masonry tower stands fifty-six feet tall and has a focal plane of 205 feet above sea level. The light is the most powerful on the Oregon coast and can be seen up to twenty-one miles out to sea.

The tower's first-order Fresnel lens was manufactured in Birmingham, England by Chance Brothers, whose lenses were also installed at Point Cabrillo, California, and Staten Island, New York among other places. The lens contains eight panels, with 640 prisms, each two inches thick.

In 1895, a large landslide, which endangered the tower and oil house, was removed, and a more gradual slope was given to the bank behind the lighthouse to prevent further slippage. A point of rocks near the lighthouse was also cut down to provide an unobstructed view of the light from the north.

On the evening of March 25, 1927, Frederick Huntington was seriously injured when he fell from an eighty-foot cliff above Sea Lion Caves to the rocks below. Clifford B. Hermann, head keeper at Heceta Head, and Charles F. Walters, second assistant keeper, were notified of the accident, and the pair quickly set out for the caves, distant two miles from the station. Once at the caves, the men made their way along the side of a cliff using a narrow trail, just eight to twelve inches wide, and then lowered a rope down to the rocks. Keeper Hermann, the first to climb down the rope, set the boy's leg, which had a compound fracture. The young man was then lashed to a board and taken up the cliff. After a visit to a local doctor, the boy was transported by train to a hospital. Keepers Hermann and Walters, along with first assistant Robert B. Bay who stood watch for nineteen hours during the absence of the other keepers, were commended by the Secretary of Commerce for heroic conduct in the rescue and treatment of the young man.

Heceta Head's light has only failed on one occasion. On February 12, 1961 a rock slide caused by heavy rains snapped the electric wires leading to the station. When the backup generator failed, Keeper Oswald Allik and two coast guard assistants employed an Aladdin lamp and turned the lens by hand, by walking around the interior of the lantern room. They kept their vigil from midnight until 7:30 the next morning.

Over time, the mechanism for revolving the lens wore out, and the lens developed a lean of nearly six inches. The Coast Guard proposed deactivating the historic Fresnel lens, but the resulting public outcry prompted the Coast Guard to repair the lens. The giant lens stopped its countless revolutions in June 2000 and was carefully removed from the tower. It was only the second time in the 106-year history of the lighthouse that the lens had stopped. After a team worked on restoring the lens and drive mechanism for nearly a year, the light was reactivated on March 15, 2001.

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The station was originally equipped with a single dwelling for the headkeeper and a duplex for the two assistants, but the single dwelling was razed in 1940. The Alpha-Bit Café in Mapleton, Oregon, fourteen miles east of Florence, was built with the salvaged lumber.

The remaining duplex, known as "Heceta House," was leased by Lane Community College for a time after the lighthouse was automated in 1963. Currently, it is a renowned Bed and Breakfast, which serves an incredible seven-course gourmet breakfast.

Though the lighthouse tower is not haunted, stories have abounded for years of strange, unexplained occurrences at Heceta House, leading to it being called one of the ten most-haunted houses in the United States. Nearly all the residents of the duplex since the 1950s have reported unusual incidents, but if you plan on staying there, don't be spooked. "Rue" can be quite pleasant and is known for sweeping up glass, and exchanging a silk stocking for rat poison. To this day, guests report friendly encounters with Rue, and no one seems to mind her at all.

After the Coast Guard agreed to repair the lens, continued maintenance of the lighthouse was turned over to the state's parks department. Devil's Elbow State Park, which encompassed the cove south of the lighthouse, was enlarged to include the lighthouse and was renamed Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. Besides, the place is just too heavenly to have the devil associated with it.

In 2009, the Fresnel lens was deactivated for three months as some of the eight brass carriage wheels that rotate the lens were not touching the bed on which they ride. Experts thought the lens was at risk of tipping over so Florida-based Lighthouse Lamping was contracted at a cost of $22,000 to rectify the situation. The lens was reactivated on May 20th, in time to delight the expected summertime visitors.

In May 2011, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department announced that a $1.3 million makeover, funded by $1.1 million from the federal transportation department and about $217,000 from the state, would commence on Heceta Head Lighthouse on August 1. "This project is a top-to-bottom restoration, inside and out," said Sue Licht, Oregon Parks and Recreation preservation architect. "It will involve restoring all the metalwork, all the masonry, all the interior finishes, including the windows and doors. The windows are going to go back in, and then the workroom will be restored on the interior as well." The entire site was closed for the first two months of work, and then the trails, parking lot, and oil house reopened to the public. The lighthouse itself was closed until June 8, 2013, when the restored tower was officially unveiled.

In the park, the tides ebb and flow. Seabirds cackle, the wind whistles through the trees. There are peaceful sunrises, glorious sunsets, and an occasional spectacular storm. Through it all, Heceta Head Lighthouse faithfully casts its eight glistening beams of light out to sea. It truly is a magical place.

Head Keepers: Andrew P. C. Hald (1894 – 1899), Edward Durgan (1899 – 1900), Joseph Dunson (1900 – 1904), Olaf L. Hansen (1904 – 1920), Frank DeRoy (1920 - 1925), Clifford B. Hermann (1925 – 1950), S. H. Elder (1950 - 1952), John A. Boyer (1952), Oswald Allik (1957 – 1963).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

References

  1. "Heceta Head, A Light Station Odyssey," Stephanie Finucane, The Keeper's Log, Spring and Summer 1992.
  2. Oregon's Seacoast Lighthouses, Jim Gibbs, 2000.
  3. "Heceta Head Lens Project," Joseph Cocking, Lighthouse Digest, October 2001.
  4. Heceta Head Lighthouse Trail Guide, Oregon State Parks Pamphlet.
  5. Guardians of the Light, Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers, Elinor de Wire, 1995.
  6. Lighthouses of the Pacific Coast, Randy Leffingwell and Pamela Welty, 2000.
  7. "Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon's most photographed, due for a makeover," Lori Tobias, The Oregonian, May 14, 2011.

Location: Located just off Highway 101, roughly eleven miles north of Florence and eleven miles south of Yachats.
Latitude: 44.1374
Longitude: -124.12792

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


Travel Instructions: Roughly eleven miles north of Florence, turn off Highway 101 into the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. After paying a nominal entrance fee, you can hike up the hill to the keeper's quarters and lighthouse. From May through September, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is open for climbing daily from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. During March, April, and October, the hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Call (541) 547-3416 for more information and for dates of special night tours. The keeper's dwelling, which serves as a Bed and Breakfast, is open to the general public Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, Thursday through Monday from noon to 5 p.m. To arrange a tour outside this season please call (866) 547-3696.

Keepers of Heceta Head Lightstation was formed in 2010 to help preserve and document the site.

Be sure to also stop at the scenic viewpoint near the Sea Lion Caves to get a spectacular view of the lighthouse and keeper's dwelling.

The tower is owned by Oregon State Parks, and the keeper's dwelling by the U.S. Forest Service. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open for tours in season.

Find the closest hotels to Heceta Head Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
As instructed by the B&B keepers, we borrowed their flashlights and hiked up to the lighthouse late at night. In compliance with their directions, we turned off the flashlights, stood with our backs against the tower, and watched in silent awe as the brilliant beams slowly swept around us. It was beneath the lighthouse that night that four new converts to the spectacular beauty of a first-order Fresnel lens performing its intended function were born.
Marilyn writes:
Absolute favorite. It's picturesque, romantic,has a fabulous light with eight beams of light that stretch out across the sea and a wonderful B&B with a view from a claw tub of the light while you soak away your troubles. It also boasts the unique feature of side-by-side toilets! The lighthouse and B&B are simply something that has to be experienced to understand exactly how magical it really is.

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