|Warrior Rock Light, OR|
Description: On October 28, 1792, an advance party from Captain George Vancouver's Columbia River expedition set foot on a rocky point at the north end of Sauvie Island. Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant William Broughton and his men were surrounded by twenty-three canoes carrying war-clad Chinooks. Broughton prudently decided to make peace rather than fight and called the place "Warrior Rock."
Roughly one hundred years later, the government decided to build a light and fog signal at Warrior Rock to help guide river traffic to and from the Portland area. The owner of the site demanded an exorbitant sum for the selected site, and the government was forced to initiate condemnation proceedings in 1887. After title to the land was obtained in December 1888, plans were drawn up for the combination light and bell tower.
The bell has the distinction of being the oldest fog bell in the Pacific Northwest. Cast in Philadelphia in 1855, the bell was first used at Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River. The winds, land contour, and roaring seas made it difficult to hear the bell, so the bell was replaced and moved to West Point Lighthouse in Puget Sound before eventually ending up at Warrior Rock in 1889. The striking apparatus for the bell was brought in from the station at Ediz Hook in Washington.
During its first season of operation, the bell was tolled for 316 hours. Joseph Haybrun, the station's first keeper, recorded in the station's logbook that he had "trouble with the bell" and that the "lamp kept blowing out." Lightkeeper Frank DeRoy, who served at Warrior Rock in the 1920s, nicknamed the bell "Black Moria" because the striking mechanism would often break and he would have to ring the bell manually for hours.
Frank and Jenny DeRoy transferred to Warrior Rock from Heceta Head Lighthouse in 1925 so their son Robert could received needed orthodontic work in Portland. Robert could board the steamer America at St. Helens in the morning, receive the necessary care in Portland, and be back in St. Helens that afternoon along with milk from one of dairy ranches along the river that he picked up along the way.
When the river was high, the sandstone foundation would often be under water. At those times, Mr. DeRoy rode an aerial tram he concocted with a cable to get to the lighthouse. After the light was electrified in 1928, Keeper DeRoy could simply flip a switch to activate the light and fog bell.
A cold wave of unprecedented severity embraced western Oregon and Washington from January 14 to February 4, 1930. The Columbia and Willamette Rivers below Portland froze over for the first time in sixty years. Several island communities in the lower Columbia were cut off by the ice, leaving numerous people and their livestock without provisions. The lighthouse tender Rose was loaded up with supplies for the settlements and succeeded in making seven landing and delivering ninety tons of supplies and feed. Though many were terribly inconvenienced by the cold spell, Keeper DeRoy used it to his advantage as shown in the following account from the Oregonian.
Though he has been in the LIghthouse Service for more than 25 years, has sailed on the lighthouse tenders and taken supplies through the surf and slid in the breeches buoy from the swaying masts of the tender to the lighthouse station, and has had countless other experiences, Frank DeRoy, keeper of Warrior Rock Light on Savies Island, Columbia River, Oreg., had a new experience added to his long list this week - he walked on a smooth ice surface and over deep water from his station to St. Helens.
As no formal dwelling was provided at the station, the first keepers were given $20 per month to offset their need to find their own housing. In 1912, the Lighthouse Service requested $2,000 to purchase 1.61 acres near the lighthouse on which stood a "fairly good dwelling," which was being occupied by the keeper. The desired amount was appropriated on October 22, 1913, and the dwelling and other buildings on the adjoining land were acquired by the government.
In the 1930s, the little frame lighthouse was replaced with a twenty-eight-foot concrete tower, built on the same square sandstone foundation. There it remained until May 27, 1969, when a barge ran into the lighthouse causing considerable damage to the foundation and disabling the light and fog bell.
While the Coast Guard debated whether to rebuild the tower, the historic bell was removed. During the move, the bell fell into the river and was severely cracked. The damaged bell was never returned to the lighthouse, and it can now be seen on the north side of the Columbia County Historic Courthouse in St. Helens, Oregon. Along the waterfront in St. Helens, you can also see a half-scale replica of the original Warrior Rock Lighthouse.
The Chinooks are gone from Sauvie Island, and today the island is a pastoral paradise with pumpkin patches, marble-sized blueberries, and miles and miles of scenic roads perfect for biking. At the northern tip of the island, the rebuilt Warrior Rock Lighthouse continues to guide river traffic along the mighty Columbia.
Head Keepers: Keepers: Joseph Hayburn (1889 – 1912), Thomas E. Stanfield (1912 - ), Frank DeRoy (1925 - 1935).
Located on the northern tip of Sauvie Island just south of Saint Helens. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
This lighthouse by itself is not overly impressive. However, if you make sure and see the half-scale replica of the original Warrior Rock Lighthouse, located behind the historic, stone St. Helens County Courthouse, as well as the fog bell which was used in the original tower, located just south of the steps on the west side of the modern court house, the combined experience is worthy of a stop.
See our List of Lighthouses in Oregon
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Russell Barber, John Miller, used by permission.