Photo by Pete Lerro
                                Jeff Pence, a member of the Westport-South Beach Historical Society, cleans the Fresnel lens wearing traditional keeper’s garb.

Photo by Pete Lerro Jeff Pence, a member of the Westport-South Beach Historical Society, cleans the Fresnel lens wearing traditional keeper’s garb.

Westport celebrates 120th anniversary of lighthouse

The Westport-South Beach Historical Society will host a 120th anniversary celebration of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse on Saturday.

“We’ve put together kind of a casual Saturday, and I hope people will come out and enjoy,” said John Shaw, executive director of the Historical Society.

Starting at noon, horseshoes and kids’ games will be set up on the lighthouse grounds, and tours will be available by donation. There also will be photo opportunities with Historical Society members dressed as traditional lighthouse keepers.

The Pleasure Hounds will play from 7 to 9 p.m. at the base of the lighthouse. The show is free to all visitors.

After 9, cake and refreshments will be available and a short ceremony will take place at the base of the lighthouse. A reading of the lighthouse keepers’ names will be accompanied by Victoria MacDonald on the bagpipes. Afterward, State Rep. Brian Blake will light up the original Fresnel lens.

After the lighting, tours will continue until about 10 p.m.

The history

In 1858, before the first permanent settlement took root on Grays Harbor, the citizens of Washington Territory asked Congress to fund a lighthouse there. But nothing happened for many years, as the Civil War preoccupied federal officials until 1865.

When commercial logging began on the Harbor in 1881, it brought a dramatic increase in shipping — and shipwrecks. The U.S. Light-House Board recommended that a light station be built on Point Chehalis, on the south side of the Grays Harbor entrance.

In 1884, Congress appropriated $15,000 for a Grays Harbor light. But the Light-House Board decided the type of light that would meet mariners’ needs would cost far more; so Congress responded with a $60,000 appropriation.

Still, construction did not begin for several more years. Finally, in December 1895, the site of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse was purchased for $500.

The lighthouse was designed the following year by Carl W. Leick, a master designer of light stations along thousands of miles of U.S. coastline, including much of the West Coast. It is considered by many to be Leick’s master­work.

The groundbreaking celebration took place Aug. 23, 1897. The Rev. J.R. Thompson of Aberdeen laid the cornerstone.

“In December 1897, four months later, the tower was complete and waiting for the lens,” said Shaw. “Wow, federal construction projects have sure changed. Four months is the time frame between the planning meetings now!”

The Fresnel lens from France was mounted in early June. And finally, on the evening of June 30, 1898, Thirteenth Lighthouse District officials, local dignitaries and Harbor residents gathered to dedicate and commission the lighthouse. The beacon was visible to mariners 27 miles out to sea.

In 1992, the Fresnel lens was turned off and an electronic beacon was mounted. Six years later, the U.S. Coast Guard licensed the Historical Society to conduct interpretive tours at the lighthouse. In 2004, the Guard transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the Historical Society under provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Historic Act of 2000.

Today

The Grays Harbor Light Station now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Informational tours and restoration efforts continue.

“When we get all the lighthouse people together, one of the topics of discussion often is about how the lighthouse is one of two Grays Harbor icons — the other being (the tall ship) Lady Washington,” said Shaw. “Somebody always chimes in with: Yeah, but the lighthouse never leaves town.”

For more information about the Westport-South Beach Historical Society and this weekend’s event, visit www.westportmaritimemuseum.com or call 360-268-0078.

 

Courtesy Westport-South Beach Historical Society
                                The Grays Harbor Lighthouse beacon was lit for the first time in June 1898.

Courtesy Westport-South Beach Historical Society The Grays Harbor Lighthouse beacon was lit for the first time in June 1898.