Oldest Working Lighthouse on the Oregon Coast
Six miles west of Highway 101 and 6 miles north of Port Orford, Cape Blanco is the most western point of land in the continental United States. The picture below was taken from space in October of 1994.
Early Spanish explorers appropriately named this area after its chalky white cliffs.
Cape Blanco is a prominent headland northwest of Port Orford,
a settlement where the Hughes family lived and farmed,
a state park,
and home to a lighthouse that still produces a beam that can be seen from 26 miles out at sea.
The primary functions of the lighthouse were to warn ships of the dangerous reef extending from the cape and to provide a fixed position for navigators.
Before the headlight first shined on December 20, 1870, the only warning announcing this dangerous passage on the coast came from a lantern in the Knapp Hotel’s large window overlooking the ocean in Port Orford.
At the time of its construction, no roads led to the lighthouse so a cost saving plan was suggested and implemented in 1869. Supplies required to construct the lighthouse were shipped directly to the cape, including a kiln to make all the bricks on the premises.
A 2-story brick duplex was built just south of the lighthouse for the principal keeper and family to live on one side and the 2 assistants and their families to live on the other.
Two lighthouse keepers lived here for their entire careers.
James Langlois was the First Assistant Keeper from 1876-1883 and then served as Head Keeper until 1918.
James Hughes, a son of Patrick Hughes from the bordering dairy farm turned ranch, served as First Assistant Keeper from 1889-1918 and then took over as Head Keeper, replacing James Langlois, until 1926.
The photo below was taken in 1901 of Keepers Langlois and Hughes with some members of their families.
From 1903-1905 Mabel Bretherton served as the first female Second Assistant Keeper in Oregon. As the widow of a First Assistant Keeper, she was offered employment to support her 3 young children.
The light emanating from the Cape Blanco Lighthouse came from a fixed white light Fresnel lens.
The first fixed light came from a lard-oil lamp. In 1885 the lard-oil lamp was replaced with a mineral-oil lamp. In 1936 the original lens was replaced with a second order revolving Fresnel lens.(lighthousefriends.com)
A Fresnel lens is a compact lens with a large aperture and short focal point. This means the hole through which the light travels is big and the rays of light travel a shorter distance to converge, allowing for more focusing power. The Fresnel lens is a thinner, lighter lens made in separate sections and mounted on a frame. Because this type of lens can capture more non-direct light from a light source, it’s light can be seen from greater distances. (en.m.wikipedia.org)
This short video from Artworks Florida Classic Fresnel Lenses, LLC explains how the rotating lens operates.
Today the Cape Blanco Lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Full-time RVers act as docents from April through May in exchange for a full hookup campsite in Cape Blanco State Park. They work with the Cape Blanco Heritage Society taking visitors up the winding staircase into the working lantern room. (enjoyportorford.com)
I know what you’re thinking! Yes, I would love to be a lighthouse docent!! Now I just have to convince Jeff…
Thanks to ShootTheMan, I can take you along for a 97 second tour of the Cape Blanco Lighthouse Fresnel Lens.