By PA2 Anthony Juarez
Prior to July 1898, the narrow entrance to Grays Harbor was shrouded by the darkness of night and could be easily passed by during the day. With no point of reference to guide mariners on stormy nights, they often fell victim to the treacherous coastline of the Pacific Northwest.
In an effort to save countless mariners, the U.S. Lighthouse Service began the construction of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse near Westport, Washington, in 1897. On the evening of June 30, 1898, a dedication ceremony at the light witnessed the illumination of Henry-LePaute’s most powerful “clamshell” Fresnel lens. This engineering marvel is the tallest lighthouse in the state of Washington, standing 107 feet.
Time, weather, and neglect have not been kind to Westport’s 106-year-old famous landmark but this year the lighthouse was restored to its former glory.
Nestled in the pine forest canopy of Point Chehelis lies a handsomely restored, newly-painted Grays Harbor lighthouse.
C & C General Contractors of Tacoma, Washington, was awarded the contract in October 2003 to renovate the lighthouse for $220,000. Scaffolding went up in early November, with repairs and painting being completed in late March 2004.
The repairs and refurbishing of the lighthouse were extensive. Mold and mildew accumulation was removed, cracks in the structure were filled and then plastered, and old paint was removed or sanded down smoothly. All the rust on the metal walkways, stairs, railings, wall panels, mullions, window frames, and roof was removed and a rust inhibitor was applied. The structure received two coats of primer and paint. All the deteriorated wood louvers were replaced with new steel louvers.
In December, All-West Glass of Oakville, Washington, replaced all of the glass on the lighthouse cupola because sand, wind and time had diminished the original glasses quality.
“My men had to individually carry all the heavy new glass sections up the narrow spiral staircase,” said Wanda Gobeil, co-owner of All-West. “ It was very labor-intensive, including lots of grinding and sanding and the bad weather didn’t help,” she added.
The glasswork was completed in three weeks and, when it was finally done, it was a uniform quarter-inch thick all the way around the cupola.
Thirteenth Coast Guard District’s Aids to Navigation Branch submitted a shore station maintenance record form for the renovation of the lighthouse in 2002 to Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit Oakland, California, (CEUO). The Coast Guard intended to relinquish the lighthouse under the Department of the Interior’s National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, so it was given a high priority for completion. CEUO approved the renovation and submitted an invitation to bid for the lighthouse through the General Services Administration (GSA).
The Westport South Beach Historical Society (WSBHS) bid was accepted for the lighthouse in December 2003 and is awaiting the deed from GSA.
“WSBHS operates the Westport Maritime Museum and part of our mission statement is the preservation of our local history. Because this lighthouse plays a vital role in our local history, it was such a natural fit for our group to be involved in its preservation,” said Laura Rust, a volunteer coordinator for the society.
The WSBHS opened the lighthouse for public tours, the following weekend.
“We are ecstatic with ownership of the lighthouse and I hope it will last another 100 years!” said Rust.
Built at the entrance to Grays Harbor.
At 107 feet it is the tallest lighthouse on the Washington Coast.
Year Built: 1898
Westport Maritime Museum
P. O. Box 1074
Westport, WA 98595
Museum housed in the old Coast Guard Station off Washington Route 105 in Westport.
Viewing platform of the lighthouse at the museum.
Tours of the lighthouse are available daily in summer months from 10AM to 4PM. Call for availability.
Thursday thru Monday
noon to 4PM.
Westport’s Maritime History Trail, a bike and pedestrian pathway, takes you from the Museum along Westport’s colorful boardwalk, past charter fishing and waterfront industries. Harbor boat tours available from Buccaneer Tours and Charters
This story appeared in the
June 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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