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 Admiralty Head, WA    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.
Description: Ships bound from the Pacific to Seattle must first pass along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, which separates the Olympic Peninsula and Canada's Vancouver Island, and then turn south and navigate through Admiralty Inlet before reaching Puget Sound. Two points define the entrance to Admiralty Inlet from the Strait of San Juan de Fuca: Point Wilson on the west and Admiralty Head on the east. Lighthouses were eventually placed on both these points to guide shipping, and today, the Keystone - Port Townsend ferry connects landings located near the two points, providing a quick link between the northwestern part of the state and the Olympic Peninsula.

First Admiralty Head Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy University of Washington
Admiralty Head is an elevated area on the western edge of Whidbey Island with eighty-foot bluffs that drop into the Admiralty Inlet, which was so named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792. An act of August 18, 1856, authorized construction of Admiralty Head Lighthouse, also known as Red Bluff Lighthouse, and ten acres of land for the station were purchased in 1858 from Dr. John and Caroline Kellogg, early settlers of Whidbey Island. The lighthouse, consisting of a two-story wooden structure painted white with a light tower rising like a church steeple from one end of its pitched roof, was built on the headland during the second half of 1860 and became operational on January 21, 1861. The tower's red lantern room contained a fixed, fourth-order Fresnel lens. It would be almost nineteen years before its companion light was established across the inlet at Point Wilson.

Captain William Robertson, a “grey grizzled sea dog,” was appointed first keeper of the lighthouse. During his four years as keeper, Robertson also served as coroner of Island County.

In 1864, Asa Shinn Mercer, the newly elected president of the University in Seattle, visited Lowell, Massachusetts to recruit young women to relocate to Washington to serve as teachers and help balance the 9 to 1 ratio of men to women. Two of the eleven ladies, known as the Mercer Girls, who traveled to Washington via Panama with Mercer that year were nineteen-year-old Josephine Pearson and Georgianna, her fifteen-year-old sister. The Pearson girls were accompanied by their father Daniel Pearson, who hoped the change in climate would improve his health. Josephine and Georgianna served as teachers in Coupeville, while their father served a watchman at the Puget Mill in Port Gamble. When Josephine died unexpectedly on August 21, 1864, Daniel relocated to Whidbey Island, where he was appointed the second keeper of Admiralty Head Lighthouse later that year. Georgianna left school teaching and served as an assistant to her father.

Daniel Pearson was joined in 1866 by his wife and two more children, Daniel and Flora, who came west as part of Asa Mercer’s second expedition. With two marriageable daughters living at the lighthouse, many suitors came calling. According to Flora's memoirs, one Sunday, “There were fifteen horses with men's saddles on their backs, hitched to the fence.”

When Georgianna married in 1866, seventeen-year-old Flora became assistant keeper. Flora kept the log and was a favorite of the lighthouse inspectors. After describing an inspection visit in 1875, she wrote:

By order of Lt. Commander Louis Keurpoff (inspector): Be it hereby known, to whom it may or may not concern: All light keepers, either principal or assistant, in this domain of our beloved Uncle Samuel, are expressly forbidden to depart from the Territory of Single Blessedness and take up their abode in the populous State of Matrimony unless said departure be permitted and sanctioned by the Lighthouse Inspector.

Flora married in 1876, but continued to serve as an assistant keeper at the lighthouse for one month following the resignation in October, 1878 of her father. Upon Keeper Pearson's death in 1897, the following information regarding his service was printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “He was keeper of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, and for 13 years, he was never absent from his post for one night. His great regularity and promptness in the business affairs of life, as well as his strict integrity in all matters, made him a most remarkable man.”

Using a $3,500 appropriation for general repairs at Admiralty Head, an unoccupied space in the attic of the dwelling was inclosed and converted into a watchroom in 1875, and the two sides of the lighthouse most affected by winter storms were covered in rustic siding.

During the Spanish-American War era at the end of the nineteenth century, the government acquired land near the lighthouse for the establishment of Fort Casey. It seems the best points for placing lights to guide friendly vessels into a passage are also the best points for placing forts to keep unfriendly vessels out of the passage. Lighthouses and defense works are close neighbors at several sites along the west coast, including Admiralty Head and Point Wilson in Washington, Point Bonita and Fort Point near San Francisco, and Point Loma in San Diego.

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As the wooden Admiralty Head Lighthouse stood on an ideal location for one of the fort's gun emplacements, it was relocated in 1899 as a temporary measure while a new lighthouse was built. An act approved March 3, 1901, appropriated $12,000 for a new lighthouse that was constructed just north of the fort by the War Department. The light was activated atop the new lighthouse on June 25, 1903, and the original lighthouse was repurposed to house noncommissioned officers and, for a short time, a temporary medical clinic. In 1928, the wooden lighthouse was torn down and the lumber used to build a house on Whidbey Island.

The second Admiralty Head Lighthouse was built in a Spanish style and included a two-story dwelling that was linked to the base of a circular tower of roughly the same height, by a one-story foyer. Three bedrooms were located upstairs in the dwelling, while the kitchen, dining room, and a living room were downstairs.

By the early 1920s, the bulk of marine traffic was powered by steam rather than wind, permitting the modern vessels to hug the western side of the inlet. Admiralty Head Lighthouse was thus no longer of consequence, and the light was extinguished in 1922 after just nineteen years of service. In 1927, the lantern room was removed and placed atop the newly reconstructed tower of the New Dungeness Lighthouse.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse sat vacant until World War II, when Fort Casey was reactivated. The lighthouse was painted olive drab and was used as barracks for the Army’s K-9 Corps that patrolled the fort and nearby beaches at night. Following the war, the lighthouse again stood empty for a time before Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission acquired 100 acres of Fort Casey’s battery area in 1955 for use as a state park and historical monument. The Island County Historical Society initiated a restoration effort shortly thereafter, and a replacement lantern room, featuring vertical astragals rather than the more complex diagonal ones found in the original, was built in the 1960s using thin sheet metal and Plexiglas windows.

After cutbacks led to the loss of interpretive park rangers at Admiralty Head Lighthouse in the early 1990s, Washington State University's Island County Extension offered to staff the lighthouse with volunteers in exchange for office space in the structure.

After plans for the original lantern room were located, Dick Malone, a lighthouse docent and former high school metal-shop teacher, and Chuck Juras, Fort Casey State Park director of maintenance, took them to Archie Nichols of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in 2009 to devise a strategy for building a replica. To control costs, donated materials were found and three high school metal shops were recruited to provide the labor. Oak Harbor students built the cross-barred central section, Coupeville students built the roof, and South Whidbey students built the base section, which includes a door.

The three sections were united at South Whidbey High School on February 2, 2012, and the rest of the school year was spent finishing the lantern room. On August 23, 2012, a crane provided by Island Crane Services, Inc. lifted the old, inaccurate lantern room off the lighthouse's tower, and two hours later, after holes were drilled in the new, authentic, 5,000-pound lantern room, it was placed atop the tower. At long last, a worthy lantern room sits atop the unique and stunning building that is Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

In 2015, Washington's Parks and Recreation Department took over control of the lighthouse from Island County Washington State University Extension.

Today, the lighthouse is home to a gift shop and a museum, which contains a multi-bull's-eyed, fourth-order Fresnel lens used at Alki Point Lighthouse. A fixed, fourth-order Fresnel lens, thought to have been used in Admiralty Head Lighthouse, is also on display. The old oil house still stands just east of the lighthouse.

Head Keepers: William Robertson (1861 – 1864), Daniel N. Pearson (1864 – 1878), Lawrence Nessel (1878 – 1887), Joseph Edward Evans (1887 – 1900), Charles Henry Davis (1900 – 1914), Edward Scannell (1914 – 1919), Hans P. Score (1919 – 1922).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. "Admiralty Head Lighthouse," Sharlene P. Nelson, The Keeper's Log, Winter 1992.
  3. "The History of Red Bluff: Washington’s Forgotten Lighthouse," Peri Lane Muhich, Lighthouse Digest, June, 2002.
  4. "Admiralty Head Lighthouse," Daryl C. McClary, historylink.org.

Location: Located in Fort Casey State Park, near Coupeville.
Latitude: 48.16079
Longitude: -122.68101

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


Travel Instructions: From the intersection of Highways 525 and 20 on Whidbey Island, go west on Highway 20 for roughly four miles. Shortly after you pass the Keystone ferry landing, you will come to Fort Casey State Park. The Admiralty Head Lighthouse is in the southwest corner of the park and is open daily in June, July and August from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For hours during other months, visit the Admiralty Head Lighthouse website or call (360) 240-5584.

The lighthouse is owned by Washington State Parks. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open in season.

Find the closest hotels to Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
When we visited the lighthouse, we spent the night at the Fort Casey Inn, which consists of four Victorian dwellings built in 1909 to house Fort Casey officers. The inn is located just north of Fort Casey, making a trip to the lighthouse aboard one of the inn's bicycles an easy excursion.
Marilyn writes:
I love this light! It is in such amazing condition and has beautiful architecture.

See our List of Lighthouses in Washington

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