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 West Point, WA    
A hike of some distance required.
Description: Situated at the end of a low, half-mile-long, sandy point, which extends into Puget Sound from the base of Magnolia Bluff, West Point Lighthouse still sends out alternating red and white flashes, but a modern beacon has taken over the function from the historic fourth-order Fresnel lens that is still mounted in the lantern room. The panels attached to alternate bull's-eye panels in the L. Sautter, Lemonnier, et Cie. Fresnel lens to produce the red flashes reduced the visibility of the would-be white beams from nineteen to sixteen miles.

West Point Lighthouse before fog signal addition. The corrugated iron oil house dates from 1890.
In 1879, the Lighthouse Board noted the need for navigational aids in Puget Sound:

There is no aid to navigation in Admiralty Inlet or Puget's Sound established, or proposed to be established, by existing legislation, south of Point-no-Point; and it is highly essential that this magnificent sheet of water, which has not its equal in the world, should be so marked by fog signals as to render its navigation from Cape Flattery to Olympia possible at all times without danger to life and property. Following the inlet south from Point-no-Point, the point or spit which deserves attention is West Point. This is the first prominent point or sand-spit north of the busy town of Seattle, on the east side of the inlet (or Puget's Sound, the dividing line not clearly defined) and nearly opposite the center of Bainbridge Island. A 10-inch fog-whistle is recommended for this station. It will cost $10,000, and an appropriation of that amount is accordingly recommended.

Congress appropriated the requested amount for a fog signal at West Point on June 14, 1880, but another act, passed on March 3, 1881, made the money applicable for the establishment of a lighthouse on the point as well.

After six acres on the tip of the point had been purchased from John Leary, construction of the station commenced on July 6, 1881. A low, square, brick tower, with an attached watch room and oil room, was built at the outer end of the spit, and a pyramidal, frame tower for the fog bell was erected just to the rear of the lighthouse. The 1,600-pound bell used at the station was relocated from Cape Disappointment, where it had been in service since 1856. A small, one-and-one-half-story, frame cottage was constructed for the keeper.

Since the lighthouse started operation on November 15, 1881, it has guided countless vessels into Seattle's Elliot Bay, located just south of the point. When the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed just north of West Point in 1917, the lighthouse also served as a marker to the entrance of this liquid link between Puget Sound and Lake Union and Lake Washington.

In 1886, the Lighthouse Board decided to replace the fog bell by a Daboll trumpet operated by a caloric engine, and as the new fog signal would require more attention than the bell, funds were also provided to construct an additional dwelling. Work on these two buildings began in June and was completed on September 15, 1886. The fog signal machinery arrived in December, and the Daboll trumpet was placed in commission on February 7, 1887. The fog bell was transferred to its final home at Oregon's Warrior Rock Lighthouse.

The fog signal was in operation roughly 350 hours per year, but in 1897, it logged 892 hours and consumed about seven tons of coal. In 1901, the Lighthouse Board decided that the old fog signal was worn out, and work on the brick fog signal building, attached to the west face of the light tower, began that July. The old frame fog signal building, which stood east of the lighthouse, was converted into a storehouse. The new fog signal machinery consisted of two one-and-a-half-horsepower engines that were connected to air compressors and powered the Daboll trumpet.

West Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Alfred W. Martin served as the first keeper of West Point Lighthouse, and he was succeeded in 1883 by George. F. Fonda, who began his lengthy stay in 1883. During his watch, the Lighthouse Board issued its first standardized lightkeeper's uniform consisting of navy blue trousers, a double-breasted coat with brass buttons, and a billed cap. The uniform was expected to increase the efficiency of the Lighthouse Service and bolster its esprit de corps.

The first keepers were quite isolated on the point, but they were provided a boat and a boathouse so they could row the seven miles to Seattle. In 1883, a half-mile-long horse trail was made up Magnolia Bluff to connect the station to the nearest wagon road. In 1900, Fort Lawton was opened on the buff overlooking the station to defend Seattle and Puget Sound.

A salt marsh located between the station and the bluff was a breeding ground for swarms of mosquitoes. Roswell Heins lived at West Point Lighthouse when his father, Otto Heins, was an assistant keeper for several years around 1920. Roswell recalls that the marsh was “the best mosquito bog Seattle ever had as we had to wear nets around the houses and yards.” But what was worse was the raw sewage from Seattle that was dumped on West Point. It wasn't uncommon to have four to six inches of sewage on the beach. “We could hardly use the beach on the North side,” Roswell recalls. “In the summer, when the tide was out we had to keep our doors and windows closed when the wind was north, as the smell was terrible.” Things improved when the West Point Treatment Plant, capable of processing 133 millions gallons of wastewater per day, was completed east of the lighthouse in 1966.

Chief Boatswain's Mate Christian Fritz served at the station during the twentieth century after the Coast Guard became responsible for the lighthouse. The level terrain on the point permitted Fritz's blind wife to freely stroll the station's grounds with the guidance of her Boxer guide dog Cookie.

In 1979, the station was slated for automation, but the wish of Marvin Gerber, the keeper at the time, to have the lighthouse still be manned for its centennial came true when the automation was postponed. On November 15, 1981, Gerber climbed atop the lighthouse and celebrated its centennial by dosing it with a bottle of champagne. Gerber enjoyed his time at the station and even succeeded in adapting his telephone conversations to twenty-seven seconds of talk followed by three seconds of silence to match the signature of the foghorn.

After all the other lighthouses in the state of Washington had been automated, West Point Lighthouse finally succumbed to automation in 1985.

West Point Lighthouse is now part of Discovery Park, Seattle's largest city park, which also includes Fort Lawton. In late 2002, West Point Lighthouse was declared surplus by the federal government under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. The City of Seattle was awarded ownership of the lighthouse in 2004, and obtained the deed to the property in 2006. Between September 2009 and the following June, lead paint was stripped from the lighthouse, and its exterior was restored.

Head Keepers: Alfred W. Martin (1881 – 1883), George. T. Fonda (1883 – 1907), Harry D. Mahler (1907 – 1913), Louis A. Petterson (1913 – at least 1930), Louis Betteker (1932 – 1938), Jacob Hall (1938 - 1939), Charles Fillinger (at least 1940).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1990.
  3. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.

Location: Located in Discovery Park, six miles northwest of Seattle.
Latitude: 47.66198
Longitude: -122.43574

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


Travel Instructions: From Highway 99 north of Seattle, exit onto Western Avenue which will become Elliott Avenue and then 15th Avenue. Drive just over a mile on 15th Avenue and then go west on Dravus Street. Just after the railroad tracks turn right on 20th Avenue, which will become Gilman Avenue. Gilman Avenue will become Government Way, which will take you into Discovery Park. Stop by the visitor center and inquire about the lighthouse. Only handicapped parking is permitted at the lighthouse. From the Discovery Park Visitor Center it is just under a two-mile walk to the lighthouse. Call (206) 386-4236 for more information.

Another way to view the lighthouse is from the water. Argosy Cruises offers a locks cruise that passes by the West Point Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the City of Seattle. Grounds open, dwellings/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to West Point Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Marilyn writes:
Be careful of the driftwood lying on the shores around the point. In addition to picking up some great views of the lighthouse, I also picked up three nail punctures in my foot from climbing on the driftwood. Like a true lighthouse fanatic, I opted to visit another lighthouse or two that day rather than seek medical attention.

See our List of Lighthouses in Washington

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