Ilwaco in Pacific County, Washington — The American West (Northwest)
Life of a Lighthouse Keeper
Working and Living on North Head
Lighthouse keepers maintained the North Head Lighthouse from 1898 until its automation in 1961. Keeping the light burning 365 days a year was arduous, repetitive work. Keepers carried gallons of oil up the narrow, winding staircase every day to keep the light burning. They regularly trimmed the five wicks and adjusted the flame heights and ventilation. The most time-consuming task was cleaning the Fresnel (pronounced fra-nel) lens, which required daily polishing with a soft rag. Every two months, the keepers polished the lens with wine to ensure a brightly shining light.
On the Edge of the Continent
North Head Lighthouse had a Head Keeper, First Assistant, and Second Assistant. All three were employees of the United States Lighthouse Service, which mandated strict regulations related to cleanliness and maintenance of the lighthouse and residences. In remote locations like this, the keepers and their families lived self-sustaining lifestyles. Due to the lack of services and supplies, families living on North Head planted large gardens and tended chickens to help provide enough food for the year.
The Need for a Lighthouse
The North Head Lighthouse, completed 1898, was needed to guide mariners approaching from the north who could
"The keepers got considerable exercise carrying oil up to the lantern. Like a starved baby, it consumed 170 gallons every month…" ~James Gibbs, Sentinels of the North Pacific
Location. 46° 17.909′ N, 124° 4.656′ W. Marker is in Ilwaco, Washington, in Pacific County. Marker can be reached from North Head Lighthouse Road 0.8 miles west of North Head Road, on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is located within Cape Disappointment State Park, along the trail leading to the North Head Lighthouse, near the lighthouse and overlooking the ocean and the lighthouse. Marker is in this post office area: Ilwaco WA 98624, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. An Evolving Playground (approx. one mile away); A Disastrous Year (approx. one mile away); Keeping Pace with Technology (approx. 1.8 miles away); Fort Canby (approx. 1.8 miles away); Clamshell Railroad Driving Tour (approx. 1.8 miles away); Lewis and Clark Trail (approx. 1.8 miles away); Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (approx. 2 miles away); Fort Columbia (approx. 8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Ilwaco.
Also see . . .
1. History of the North Head Lighthouse.
At the same time the lighthouse was being constructed, construction workers built two oil houses just to the east of the lighthouse. A keeper’s residence, a duplex to house two assistant keepers, a barn, and outbuildings were also constructed at that time. All of the original buildings are still located on site. Lighthouse keepers and their families had a remote and hard life. Keepers would traditionally work 8 hour shifts if there were three keepers. If one of the keepers left, the hours would become much longer. The light was lit from dusk to dawn with cleaning and polishing being done during the daylight hours. (Submitted on April 18, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
2. North Head Lighthouse.
Although the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse helped mariners locate and cross the Columbia River bar, its location made it ineffective from vessels approaching from the north. To alleviate that issue, the Lighthouse Board established the North Head Lighthouse. (Submitted on April 18, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
3. North Head Light.
The North Head Light was constructed in 1897 after mariners complained that the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, installed in 1856, was obscured to ships approaching from the north by the headland extending southwest from the light. The new lighthouse (Submitted on April 18, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Categories. • Man-Made Features • Waterways & Vessels •
Credits. This page was last revised on April 24, 2018. This page originally submitted on April 18, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 60 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on April 18, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 7, 8, 9. submitted on April 20, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page.