Friday, June 7, 2013

Winchester Bay Lighthouse

Today we visited the Umpqua River lighthouse about a mile down the road from our site.

During the summer of 1849, the Coast Survey, headed by Alexander D. Bache, set out along the unmarked West Coast to determine the most beneficial locations for lighthouses. The Umpqua River mouth was selected as one of only six sites in the Oregon territory, which included the modern day states of Oregon and Washington.

In 1851, Congress appropriated $15,000 for the Umpqua River Lighthouse and thirty-three acres were set aside for the site. Work was delayed when on September 13, 1853, the supplies for the light were destroyed when the schooner Oriole foundered just off Cape Disappointment. Finally, in 1856, construction began. 

Many thought the Umpqua River area would become a major shipping center due to its abundance of "green gold," the pristine timber rapidly being harvested. The turbulent force with which the river collided with the ocean created a great hazard for ships, and a beacon marking the spot was greatly needed. 

The original lighthouse at this location was built in 1857. Construction didn't come easy. A band of local Indians pestered the crew and site. They would steal anything left around the sight, including tools and supplies. Before the two groups broke down and began fighting, a foreman lit a stick of dynamite. The Indians were so terrified by the loud blast that they scattered and never came around again.

The first tower lasted only four years until its foundation gave way the tower collapsed into the river. It would take many more ships being lost before a new tower would be built. Almost forty years would pass before the current tower was built in 1894. The tower stands a mere 65 feet tall, but with the cliffs, the light stands 165 feet above sea level and its light is visible 21 miles away.

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