Whole Families Take Charge of Oregon Lighthouses

Sep 10, 2015



Beginning in 1857, being an Oregon lighthouse keeper was more than maintaining the warning beacon for ships at sea.  It also meant carrying a pail of lard oil from storage up more than 100 steps each night; repairing, cleaning and polishing the lenses; and keeping a daily journal of all activities, including receiving visitors.


Keepers were required to read, write, and do arithmetic.  Besides their lighthouse duties, the keepers and their families gardened and hunted game, maintained their nearby house and reared and educated their children.  Some kept a cow for milk.  Keepers cherished rare moments of leisure for reading and sleeping.


 In 1876 the U. S. Lighthouse Establishment provided books in revolving libraries packed in large oak boxes. They arrived every three or four months by ship and over rugged, sometimes muddy roads.


Lighthouses dotted the Oregon Coast every 40 miles, providing light 20 miles out to sea. Later, beacon lamps powered by electricity replaced oil-burning candle lights. 


The U.S. Department of Commerce first administered the lighthouses for aiding ships in Oregon’s treacherous seas.  The Department of Defense ran them during World War II.  The Interior Department is in charge today.

Sources:  DeWire, Elinor. "Lighthouses, Fascinations and the Writing Life." Elinor DeWire's Author Blog. Ed. Elinor DeWire. N.p., 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Aug. 2015. Wyss, Lucia. Interviewed by author with interpreter ranger, Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Sept. 10, 2015.