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 Battery Point (Crescent City), CA    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Volunteer keeper program offered.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Boo! Lighthouse haunted.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: In 1855, the ship America burned in the harbor at Crescent City. Three cannons were salvaged from the wreckage and mounted nearby on the point at the northern side of the harbor's entrance. The cannons, which were often fired during Fourth of July celebrations, resulted in the point being named Battery Point. Although the cannons have since disappeared, the name remains affixed to the point.

Battery Point Lighthouse
A second event occurred that same year that would result in another addition to the point. In May of 1855, Congress appropriated $15,000 for the construction of a lighthouse on the tiny islet, which is connected to Battery Point by an isthmus at low tide. Although not included in the 1852 contract for the first eight west coast lighthouses, the Battery Point Lighthouse was actually lit ten days before the Humboldt Harbor Lighthouse, the last of the original eight to become operational. The lighthouse, like most of the original eight, was built in a Cape Cod style, with the tower located in the center of the dwelling. The fourth-order Fresnel lens in the lantern room first illuminated the night sky at Crescent City on December 10, 1856.

The first official keeper, Theophilis Magruder, arrived at the lighthouse fifteen days after it was first lit. A temporary keeper had been employed until Magruder could arrive. Magruder's starting salary was $1,000 per year. He subsequently received a 40% pay cut, which prompted his resignation.

In 1875, the Lighthouse Board reported that the lighthouse "was in a dilapidated condition…the light itself is of little consequence." With Saint George Reef lying roughly six miles northwest of the harbor, mariners felt that approaching the harbor at night was too risky and typically remained well at sea. A light was eventually established on St. George Reef, but mariners discovered that the harbor light was still required for safe nighttime navigation.

John Jeffrey became keeper of the light in 1875, during the time when the lighthouse's future was uncertain. Jeffrey and his wife Nellie served for nearly forty years at the station, and for part of that time, Nellie was employed as the first assistant keeper. They raised four children at the station, and the life must have been somewhat agreeable as their son also entered into the lighthouse service, taking an assignment at the Oakland Harbor Lighthouse.

The Crescent City Lighthouse was automated in 1953, and a modern 375mm lens replaced the fourth-order Fresnel lens. After automation, the Del Norte Historical Society leased the lighthouse, and the lighthouse eventually became home to a museum and curators.

With its exposed location atop a rocky mound, the lighthouse was often battered by storms. Waves would wash over the islet and strike the lighthouse. One rogue wave broke three panes of glass in the lantern room and deposited water in the tower. Remarkably, the lighthouse received no damage when Crescent City received the worst tsunami damage ever suffered along the west coast of the lower forty-eight states. On March 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the northern hemisphere with a moment magnitude of 9.2 struck Alaska near Prince William Sound. A series of waves generated by the earthquake raced south at a speed of nearly 600 mph and reached Crescent City around midnight with crests of up to twenty feet.

Battery Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Clarence (Roxey) and Peggy Coons were living as curators in the lighthouse when the waves arrived. Peggy awoke a little before midnight to use the bathroom, and upon looking out the window noted an extremely high tide in the harbor that was illuminated by a nearly full moon. She roused her husband. They quickly dressed and then hurried outside the lighthouse in time to witness the first waves pummel Crescent City. The following is Peggy's account after the third wave had flooded the city:

The water withdrew as if someone had pulled the plug. It receded a distance of three-quarters of a mile from the shore. We were looking down, as though from a high mountain, into a black abyss. It was a mystical labyrinth of caves, canyons, basins, and pits, undreamed of in the wildest of fantasies.

The basin was sucked dry...In the distance, a black wall of water was rapidly building up, evidenced by a flash of white as the edge of the boiling and seething seawater reflected the moonlight.

Then the mammoth wall of water came barreling towards us. It was a terrifying mass, stretching up from the ocean floor and looking much higher than the island. Roxey shouted, "Let's head for the tower!" - but it was too late. "Look out!" he yelled and we both ducked as the water struck, split and swirled over both sides of the island. It struck with such force and speed that we felt we were being carried along with the ocean. It took several minutes before we realized that the island hadn't moved.

When the tsunami assaulted the shore, it was like a violent explosion. A thunderous roar mingled with all the confusion. Everywhere we looked buildings, cars, lumber, and boats shifted around like crazy. The whole beachfront moved, changing before our very eyes. By this time, the fire had spread to the Texaco bulk tanks. They started exploding one after another, lighting up the sky. It was spectacular!

It still seems hard to believe that with all the salvage that floated by us out to sea, the only bit to reach the island was one spool of lavender thread.

Eleven people in Crescent City were killed by the tsunami. Twenty-one boats were destroyed in the harbor, and ninety-one homes in town were damaged. The total cost of all the destruction was in excess of seven million dollars.

The lighthouse survived the ordeal intact, but the following year, the modern beacon that replaced the Fresnel lens in the tower was switched off, and a flashing light at the end of the nearby breakwater served as the harbor's navigational aid. On December 10, 1982, the light in the lighthouse tower was lit again, and the Battery Point Lighthouse was listed as a private aid to navigation.

Today caretakers live in the lighthouse and conduct tours of the premises. The fourth-order Fresnel lens used in the lighthouse is on display along with historic photos and other lighthouse memorabilia.

Head Keepers: Theophilus Magruder (1857 – 1859), Dugald Stewart Sartwell (1859 – 1860), Charles Edwards (1860 – 1862), George Washington Emery (1862 – 1866), John Henessy (1866 – 1875), John H. Jeffrey (1875 – 1914), Charles Bruehl (1914 - 1916) John E. Lind (1916 - 1930), John Otto Becker (1930 - 1933), Cheney V. Dunbar (1933 - 1936), Joseph Marhoffer (1936 - 1939), James Elmer Simonson (1939 - 1942), Fred Carl Saunders (1942 - 1945), John Hollenbeck (1945 - 1946), Wayne Redrick Piland (1946 – 1953).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

References

  1. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  2. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
  3. The Raging Sea, Dennis Powers, 2005.

Location: The lighthouse is located on a small island just outside Crescent City's Harbor.
Latitude: 41.74416
Longitude: -124.2031

For a larger map of Battery Point (Crescent City) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 101 in Crescent City, go west on Front Street until it ends at A Street. Turn left onto A Street and follow it to the parking lot at its end. The Battery Point Lighthouse is open April through September, tides permitting, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. You can call (707) 464-3089 during these hours to learn when the tide permits access to the island. A gift shop and museum, showcasing the original fourth-order Fresnel lens, are located in the lighthouse. Visitors are permitted to climb to the top of the tower. Note that walking on the breakwater that provides a good view of the lighthouse is not advised. A man was swept off the breakwater by a sneaker wave in December of 2008 and drowned.

The lighthouse is owned by Del Norte County. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open in season.

Find the closest hotels to Battery Point (Crescent City) Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
While in town, you can check out a couple of reminders of the devastating 1964 tsunami. First, between H and K Streets along what was Second Street you will find a memorial plaque at Tsunami Landing listing the names of the eleven people who lost their lives. Along Front Street, you can see a giant tetrapod, over a thousand of which make up the outer breakwater at Crescent City. This tetrapod, which weighs 25 tons, was moved almost three feet by the tsunami.
Marilyn writes:
Definitely worth a day time and sunset picture. Be careful to watch the tide coming back in at the end of the day or you may be spending the night outside of the lighthouse.

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