|Point Retreat, AK|
Description: Point Retreat Lighthouse is situated at the northern tip of ninety-mile-long Admiralty Island, which is bordered by Stephens Passage on the east and Chatham Strait on the west. Thousands of tourists view the lighthouse each year from the comfort of cruise ships that call at nearby ports during the temperate summer months but few visitors actually set foot on expansive Admiralty Island as it is home to only one permanent settlement, the tiny Tlingit village of Angoon. The natives call their island Kootznahoo, meaning “Bear Fortress,” and the Alaskan brown bears do seemingly rule the island, outnumbering humans by a ratio of 2:1.
Given its prominent position along the Inside Passage, Point Retreat was set aside as a 1,505-acre lighthouse reserve in 1901 by executive order of President McKinley. The point, however, had to wait a couple of years for its lighthouse due to inadequate funding. When the Point Retreat Lighthouse was finally lit on September 15, 1904, it became the tenth light station to be constructed by the U.S. Government in the Alaskan Territory.
The first Point Retreat Lighthouse was a six-foot-tall hexagonal wooden tower, topped by a hexagonal lantern room. Two one-and-one-half-story frame dwellings were constructed fifty feet south of the light, but one of them apparently burned down not long after it was completed. The station’s boat, stored in a rectangular boathouse just east of the dwellings, allowed the keepers to make an occasional trip to Juneau.
Just before World War I, Point Retreat was stripped of its personnel and downgraded to a minor light. Life, however, returned to the station just a few years later, when a new combination lighthouse and fog signal was built in 1923-24. A one-story, rectangular (30’ x 40’) building housed the fog signal equipment, and from the center of this cement structure a spiral staircase led up to a square tower, which was topped by a circular lantern room. Two new keeper’s dwellings, a landing wharf, derrick, hoist, boathouse, and cisterns were also built at the same time for a total price of $58,242.
When Charles Jr. was just two, his mother set him on the station's dock railing while she changed the film in her Kodak box camera. While she was distracted, Charles fell forty feet from the dock to the rocks below. Charles Jr. seemed to have suffered little from the fall until a while later when his legs started to bother him. He was taken to Juneau, where he had the misfortune of being treated by a doctor whose inept handling of his injuries left him crippled for life. The station’s small launch used for transportation between Point Retreat and Auke Bay was named Hard Luck Charlie after the boy. Charles Sr. soon had his share of bad luck too, as he developed pneumonia in 1930 and passed away.
With the increase of commercial flights to Alaska, airlines launched an intensive campaign for aeronautical beacons to be placed along the Alaskan coastline. Rather than add a second beacon on Admiralty Island, the lantern room from the Point Retreat Lighthouse was simply removed in the 1950’s and replaced by an eight-foot-tall concrete block supporting a double-ended airways beacon. In this manner, the Point Retreat lighthouse could serve both captains and pilots.
As the station moved towards automation, one of the two keeper’s dwellings was torn down in 1966 to make room for a helicopter landing pad. Then, in 1973, the station was downgraded to a minor light, and the remaining personnel were removed.
The lone dwelling stood vacant and the station received only an occasional checkup visit from the Coast Guard until a 30-year lease on the property was granted to the Alaska Lighthouse Association in 1997. Five years later, the same group received outright ownership of the buildings and the entire 1,505-acres originally set aside for the station. Several groups tried to block the land transfer, feeling that only ten acres should be awarded with the lighthouse. The Alaska Lighthouse Associations plans to use the property to house a maritime museum and a small bed-and-breakfast. Stipulations in the transfer require that the property be accessible to the public.
In 2002, all the structures at Point Retreat received a fresh coast of paint, but the station seemed incomplete without the lantern room that was removed decades earlier. A search for the missing lantern room was unsuccessful so Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze works of Seattle was contracted to build a steel replica using architectural drawings found in the National Archives. The new lantern room was installed atop the lighthouse in 2004, just in time for the centennial of the station. The Point Retreat Lighthouse is now fit to start another century of service complete with short-term "keepers" residing in the dwelling.
Located on the northern tip of Admiralty Island, twenty-one miles northwest of Juneau. The lighthouse is owned by the Alaska Lighthouse Association. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open by arrangement with Alaska Lighthouse Association.
The lighthouse is owned by the Alaska Lighthouse Association. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open by arrangement with Alaska Lighthouse Association.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
See our List of Lighthouses in Alaska
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.