They will leave the light on for you.
Lighthouses have guided ships in Washington since 1856, when Cape Disappointment’s lantern at the treacherous mouth of the Columbia River was first lit.
You can spot their glowing beacons all over our coasts, islands and waterways, helping ships navigate local waters safely.
In fact, three of Washington’s 26 lighthouses – Mukilteo, Admiralty Head and Bush Point – are located here. All three were lit by oil lamps lit by their keepers.
Two were designed by renowned architect Carl Leick, fitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, and painted traditional white with green trim and a red roof. One is related to a farmer aptly named Farmer.
Your first stop on this coastal lighthouse tour? Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. (Unless, of course, you live on Whidbey Island.)
In 1901, the Lighthouse Board determined that a light and fog signal should be constructed at Point Elliott to help guide ships heading for Possession Sound.
The Victorian-style wooden lighthouse was designed by Leick and built in 1906 for around $27,000, or about $851,000 in today’s money.
Mukilteo Lighthouse, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, featured a fog horn, two keepers’ quarters, an oil house, and a windmill built over a well.
“The lighthouse is the icon of the city,” said Joanne Mulloy, president of the Mukilteo Historical Society. “It’s our third place – that’s the best way to describe it.”
Mukilteo’s signal light is on for two seconds and off for three seconds. The lantern atop the 38-foot tower was fitted with a rotating fourth-order Fresnel lens, often called the invention that saved a million ships.
“Our claim to fame is that we are the only active Fresnel lens in Washington State,” Mulloy said. “There are probably six left in total on the West Coast.”
The fog signal was often as valuable to ships as light. An 8-foot diaphragm fog horn aft of the lighthouse ran on compressed air and emitted a 4-second blast every 16 seconds. Around 1970 a modern horn was built closer to the water with a sensor capable of detecting fog within half a mile.
In 1927, electricity was installed and the current Fresnel lens replaced the original. The Coast Guard automated the lighthouse in 1979.
A total of 19 lighthouse keepers were assigned to Mukilteo Lighthouse Station from 1906 to 1990. The first lighthouse keeper, Peter Christensen, served there until his death in 1925. Christensen received the Mukilteo Mission as a reward for rescued the crew of a sinking ship near his previous post at Turn Point Lighthouse in the San Juan Islands.
Even today, the lighthouse continues to be an important navigational aid, including for the ferries that operate between Mukilteo and Clinton on Whidbey Island.
The living quarters of a caretaker and assistant caretaker now serve as a museum and gift shop run by volunteers from the Mukilteo Historical Society.
The Mukilteo Lighthouse at 608 Front Street will be open on a limited basis this year due to repairs and upgrades. The grounds are accessible all year round. Visit mukilteohistorical.org for more information.
Next, travel to Admiralty Head Lighthouse in Coupeville on Whidbey Island. It is on the grounds of Fort Casey State Park.
There have actually been two Admiralty Lighthouses shining on Admiralty Inlet for which they were named.
The original, also called Red Bluff Lighthouse, was built in 1861. The Cape Cod-style structure featured a square wooden tower built on top of the two-story keeper’s quarters.
“The Admiralty Head light signal did not flash,” said Wayne Clark, chairman of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse Keepers. “It had a continuous glowing light fixed at 270 degrees. The other 90 degrees represent the door they had to open to clean it.
During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the lighthouse with a 40-foot tower was forced to move so the army could build Fort Casey. It was in an ideal location for the placement of the fort’s cannons. Red Bluff was demolished in 1928.
A replacement was built in 1903 about three football pitches from the first. Leick designed a two-story Spanish-style lighthouse with keeper’s quarters and a conical tower. It was built of brick and covered in stucco for around $12,000 – or about $400,500 in today’s money. Its 30-foot tower was painted black and fitted with the original Fresnel lens.
Admiralty Head was decommissioned in 1922 and the lantern moved to New Dungeness Lighthouse near Sequim in 1927.
“The fort asked ship captains if the light was still valuable to them,” Clark said. “It was more of a position fire than a protective fire. With steamboats better able to navigate the inlet, this was no longer as necessary.
A total of seven lighthouse keepers were posted to Admiralty Head from 1861 to 1922. The first lighthouse keeper, William Robertson, also served as Coroner and Postmaster for Island County during his three-year post.
During World War II, the lighthouse was painted olive green and served as barracks for the army’s K-9 corps.
Since 1955, Washington State Parks and the Island County Historical Society have worked to restore the lighthouse and its oil house. Most notably, in 2012, the three Whidbey Island high schools helped build a historically accurate lantern and install it atop the tower.
Today, the lighthouse serves as a gift shop and museum run by volunteers from the Admiralty Lighthouse Keepers.
The Admiralty Head Lighthouse, at 1280 Engle Road, Coupeville, is open in May from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, and from June to August daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Find Admiralty Head Lighthouse Keepers on Facebook for more information.
tip of the bush
Bush Point Lighthouse is also on Whidbey Island. You’ve never seen a lighthouse like this.
Bush Point Lighthouse was built in 1933. Unlike Mukilteo and Admiralty Head, there are no keeper’s quarters, no tower to climb, no gift shop. The light sits atop a 20 foot pyramidal square concrete tower. It is painted white with blue trim.
Please note: it is located on private property off Lake Avenue in Freeland. Which means you can’t climb up to the lighthouse – you can only photograph it from the road.
The passage between Bush Point and Marrowstone Island is narrow. Before the Lighthouse Board determined it needed a light, Bush Point was marked by a private lamp belonging to John Farmer, a chicken and cattle farmer who lived from 1860 to 1910.
Every evening, the farmers climbed 17 steps to hang an oil lamp from a wooden gallows to help the ships.
“Maybe it’s not one to get a lot of visitors, but it’s very sentimental to me,” said Darla Farmer, who married into the family that established the Bush Point lighthouse. “I’ve been seeing him for a long time.”
In 1894, a lamppost that used a tubular lantern lamp was built there by the Lighthouse Board.
After a ship was grounded on Marrowstone Island, upgrades were made to Bush Point for an improved light and new fog signal, totaling about $6,200, or about $135,200 in money today.
The Bush Point signal light came on for 5 seconds, then went off for 5 seconds, while the tower-mounted air horn sounded a 5-second blast every 30 seconds when needed. It was replaced by a diaphragm horn in 1945, followed by a modern horn in 1973.
The lighthouse tower had to be repaired after a fire damaged it in 1945. An inn called Pirates’ Lair – built of driftwood and planks from wrecked ships – next to the Bush Point Lighthouse was destroyed by the ‘fire.
The fog signal was discontinued in 1976, but the Coast Guard still maintains the light to help ships navigate the narrow passage off Bush Point.
Darla Farmer has a photograph from 1955 which shows her posing in a new bathing suit at the lighthouse. She had just turned 14.
“I thought I looked pretty good in this bathing suit, so I have the photo of the lighthouse with my arms in the air like, ‘Look at me! ‘” Farmer said. “I thought I was Marilyn Monroe.”
North Shore Washington Magazine
This article is featured in the summer issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement to the Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue costs $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or visit www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.