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 Cape Meares, OR    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Volunteer keeper program offered.
Description: Located in "the land of cheese, trees, and ocean breeze," Cape Meares lighthouse sits at the northern end of the beautiful, twenty-mile-long Three Capes Scenic Loop along the Oregon coast.

Cape Meares Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Cape Meares was originally named Cape Lookout by explorer Captain John Meares in 1788, but nautical charts produced in 1850 and 1853 mistakenly put the name on another cape, ten miles to the south. By the time the mistake was realized, Cape Lookout was being widely used by mariners for the southern cape. George Davidson, an officer with the Coast Survey, decided it would be easier to rename the original Cape Lookout than correct the maps, and in 1857 he renamed it Cape Meares.

Perhaps because of this confusion, rumors have persisted over the years that the lighthouse was originally intended for Cape Lookout and was mistakenly built on Cape Meares. However, the lighthouse surveys submitted in 1886, show that there was no mistake. J.S. Polhemus wrote "Cape Meares affords nearly as good a site [as Cape Lookout] as far as the sea is concerned, and being lower gives a better situation of light with reference to fog, and besides it would be much easier for construction on account of its accessibility from Tillamook Bay."

Bids for building a light station at Cape Meares were opened on August 30, 1888, and three separate contracts were awarded. One for erecting the two frame keeper's dwellings, two brick oil houses, barn, and cistern; the second for the ironwork for the tower; and the third for erecting the tower.

The contractors in charge of the station's buildings finished their work on November 28, 1889, and the tower, with lens in place, was completed on December 23, 1889. The first-order, Fresnel lens, made in France by the Henry-Lepaute firm, was shipped around Cape Horn to Cape Meares, where a hand-operated crane made from local spruce trees was used to lift the crates containing the prisms of the one-ton lens up the 200 foot cliff to the tower. The octagonal tower is made of sheet iron lined with bricks, the only one of its kind on the Oregon coast.

The light was exhibited for the first time on January 1, 1890, the date that had been fixed and publicized by the Lighthouse Board. Though the squatty lighthouse was only thirty-eight feet tall, the shortest in Oregon, thanks to the lofty cliff, the light had a focal plane of 223 feet and could be seen for twenty-one miles. The characteristic of the light was fixed white, punctuated by a red flash each minute. This was achieved by the giant lens completing a revolution once every four minutes. Roughly every two hours, the keeper had to wind up a 200-pound weight that would power a clockwork mechanism responsible for turning the lens. The lens rested on brass chariot wheels and was equipped with four bull's-eye panels covered with ruby glass. A brick workroom abutting the tower was added in 1895.

Aerial view showing parking lot where dwellings once stood
Photograph courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The station's two, one-and-a-half-story dwellings were located 1,000 feet up the hill from the tower, where the parking lot is today. The first head keeper, Anthony Miller, lived in one dwelling, while his two assistants, Andrew Hald and Henry York, shared the other. Water from a spring was piped to the station and stored in brick cisterns. About once a month, a supply run would be made to Tillamook. The quickest way to the city was a six-mile pull by rowboat across Tillamook Bay, starting at a sandspit two miles north of the station. The trip had to be timed to coincide with high tide, as during low tide, the bay became a muddy mess. In 1893, $5,000 was spent to build a wagon road to link the station with the county road near Netarts. A keeper's family once wrote of an all-night, horse and buggy ride to reach a doctor. Today, the drive to Tillamook takes just sixteen minutes.

Electricity came to the lighthouse in 1934, and the two oil houses were dismantled. The lighthouse was decommissioned on April 1, 1963 when an automated beacon was installed on a concrete blockhouse a few feet from the tower. The new light has a characteristic of a white flash every fifteen seconds.

After the new light was installed, the Coast Guard talked of removing the old tower. The workroom was torn down, and the tower started rusting away. Local citizens opposed the destruction of the tower, and in 1964, the property was leased to Tillamook County.

With no resident caretakers, the tower and vacant dwellings were subjected to vandalism, and four bull's-eye prisms were stolen from the Fresnel lens. In 1968, the property was leased to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and the keeper's dwellings were razed. A replica of the workroom was rebuilt on the east side of the lighthouse in 1978. However, the door was positioned on the south side of the workroom rather than on the north side as on the original, to better accommodate visitors. The lighthouse was opened to the public on Memorial Day, 1980.

In 1984, one of the four bull's-eyes from the Fresnel lens was recovered in a drug raid in Portland, Oregon. After a 1986 magazine article pleaded for the return of the others, the other three found their way back. One was given to the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, and another was anonymously left on the doorstep of a Cape Lookout assistant park ranger.

On the night of January 9, 2010, vandals once again struck Cape Meares Lighthouse. Several rounds were fired at the lantern room, breaking fifteen panes of glass in the lantern room and several prisms in the priceless Fresnel lens. The estimated damage was $500,000, and a $5,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. Twenty-six-year-old David Wilks Jr. and twenty-three-year-old Zachary Pyle were arrested on February 10, just over a month after the incident, and charged with first-degree criminal mischief, a class C felony, and four misdemeanor charges. The following December, the case was resolved out of court, with the two men pleading guilty, agreeing to pay $100,000, and being required to spend two weeks in jail (between December 27th and January 11th) in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The judge, in handing down the sentence, said, “Some people go to Hawaii for vacation and some people go to jail. The next three years will serve as a reminder, and you are going to get some time to contemplate that.”

After receiving no comments on its proposed plan to discontinue the modern light at Cape Meares, the Coast Guard disconnected the beacon on June 25, 2014, 124 years after the cape was first illuminated. “It was decommissioned and taken offline,” said Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley, of USCG Air Station Astoria. “What we’re finding is with today’s GPS and satellite systems and electronic charting, which can let you know where you are in the water within a few feet, the technology is getting so advanced that people aren’t utilizing the lights.”

Today Cape Meares Lighthouse is part of Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint and is interpreted by Friends of Cape Meares Lighthouse.

Head Keepers: Anthony W. Miller (1889 – 1891), George Hunt (1892 – 1903), Augusta Hunt (1903), Harry D. Mahler (1903 – 1907), George H. Higgins (1907 – 1909), Thomas (William) P. Ford (1909 – at least 1915), Mortimer Galvin (at least 1919 - at least 1921), Gust Jensen (at least 1930), Charles Miller (1932 - ), Charles F. Walters (at least 1940).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Oregon's Seacoast Lighthouses, Jim Gibbs, 2000.
  3. "Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint," Visitors Pamphlet, Oregon State Parks, 1999.
  4. Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1994.
  5. "After 124 years, Cape Meares light not longer shines," Leeann Neal, Tillamook County Pionner, July 1, 1014.

Location: Located in Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, roughly 10 miles northwest of Tillamook. Cape Meares is the northernmost of the three capes along the Three Capes Scenic Route, Cape Kiwanda and Cape Lookout being the other two.
Latitude: 45.4864
Longitude: -123.9781

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


Travel Instructions: From Highway 101 in Tillamook, take 3rd Street, also known as Netarts Highway, west to Bayocean Road. Proceed north on Bayocean Road around Tillamook Bay. The road will turn south and become Cape Meares Loop Road, part of the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Roughly 2.2 miles after the road turns south, follow the signs to Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint where the lighthouse is located. Cape Meares Lighthouse is opened daily April through October from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. by the Friends of Cape Meares Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge, Inc.. A gift shop is housed in the workroom adjacent to the tower, which is open for climbing.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by Oregon State Parks. Grounds open, tower open in season.

Find the closest hotels to Cape Meares Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Just up the hill from the Cape Meares Lighthouse is the interesting Octopus Tree. The many branches of this Sitka Spruce reach heavenward, resembling a gigantic candelabra. The tree merits the extra hike up the hill, especially if the tower is inaccessible as it was during our visit in the summer of 2003.

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