In 1871, when a lighthouse was first established on the northern side of the mouth of the Yaquina River in Oregon, the nearby community of Newport was growing into an important center for fishing and the fur trade. Today, Newport is a busy and attractive city with a population of more than 9,000. Fine restaurants, gift shops and galleries bring flocks of tourists, but many lighthouse lovers come primarily to see the scenic Yaquina Head Lighthouse, located a short distance to the north. The tall, elegant brick tower is a maritime icon of the northwest.
Visitors should be aware that there is another lighthouse here that is open for tours. The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse — the oldest standing structure in Newport — had a brief life in its first incarnation as an aid to navigation, but it’s thriving as a beautifully restored historic site, thanks to decades of hard work by local preservationists.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, with a square light tower situated on the roof of a wooden two-story keeper’s house, is
the only remaining combined dwelling/
lighthouse constructed in Oregon. When Charles Pierce, a Civil War veteran, became the first keeper in November 1871, little did he know that he would be the sole person to ever hold that position. Keeper Pierce faithfully tended the whale oil lamp and fifth order Fresnel lens while he and his wife, Sarah, raised their large family at the lighthouse. Their tenth child was born during their stay here.
In the fall of 1871, right around
the time Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was established, work began on another lighthouse at Yaquina Head, just three miles to the north. According to some sources, this aid was originally intended for Cape Foulweather, several miles farther to the north. This appears to
be a myth that originated because
many charts mistakenly identified Yaquina Head as Cape Foulweather.
The 93-foot Yaquina Head Lighthouse, built of 370,000 bricks, was first lit on August 20, 1873. The new, higher light could be seen for 22 nautical miles, twice the distance of Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. This signaled the end for the older lighthouse after only three years of service. Keeper Pierce and his family packed up their belongings and moved away, and the building remained vacant for the next
14 years. The Fresnel lens was sent to Yerba Buena Lighthouse near San Francisco.
The 1871 lighthouse gradually fell into disrepair, but it got a new life when it was used for housing during the building of a nearby jetty by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1888 and 1896. The U.S. Life-Saving Service used the building as quarters for a crew for some years starting in 1906.
Meanwhile, the lighthouse gained a reputation for ghostly events. These stories can be traced to an 1899 story by
Lischen M. Miller in the Pacific Monthly. Miller’s story concerned Muriel Trevenard, a pretty young woman in her late teens who arrived at Newport aboard a sloop with her father. Left alone at a hotel, Muriel soon befriended a group of campers. The group decided to visit the abandoned Yaquina Bay Lighthouse one foggy night.
As the young people explored
the dark interior of the lighthouse,
they came to a closet where an iron
plate covered a dark hole. Upon discovering the hole, they were all filled with dread and hurried from the building. Muriel, though, returned to pick up a handkerchief that she had left behind. As the others waited outside, bloodcurdling screams came from inside the building. Going back inside, they found nothing but blood on the stairway and Muriel’s bloodstained handkerchief. Muriel was never seen again.
According to the book Lighthouses of the Pacific by Jim Gibbs, members of the lifesaving crew that staffed the lookout station nearby sometimes saw mysterious lights coming from inside the lighthouse’s empty lantern. One crewman swore that he saw a figure approaching him with a swinging lantern, but when he switched on a floodlight, the figure disappeared.
Despite the fact that the lighthouse was included in a recent Travel Channel program called Haunted Lighthouses of America, most believe that Lischen Miller’s story was written as fiction and there never really was a Muriel Trevenard. But the story has spread far and wide and has done plenty to increase public interest in Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.
A new bridge completed in 1933 brought Highway 101 close to the lighthouse. In the following year,
the state of Oregon bought the surrounding property and developed it into a state park. By 1946, the badly deteriorated lighthouse was slated for demolition and the Lincoln County Historical Society was formed to save the building. The Society struggled to raise funds, but the fight gained momentum with the involvement in the early 1950s of L.E. Warford, an Ohio industrialist who had been raised in Oregon.
The partially restored lighthouse, still boarded up, was used as a museum by the Lincoln County Historical Society starting in 1956. In 1974, the museum closed and restoration began in earnest. The north wing of the building was completely rebuilt and expanded, rotting siding was replaced and the interior was replastered and repainted. The restoration was capped with the return of a working light to the lighthouse in December 1996, after
122 years of darkness. A modern 250mm optic was donated by lighthouse historian Jim Gibbs. The fixed white light continues to serve as a privately maintained aid to navigation.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department carried out the restoration with help from many people and agencies, including Yaquina Lights, Inc. The lighthouse, in Yaquina Bay State Park, at the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, is open every day (except major holidays) for self-guided tours. Yaquina Lights, Inc. operates an interpretive store. The lantern room is not open to the public, but the basement is open and features a video on the history. Yaquina Lights, Inc. also operates an interpretive center and store at Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
For more information, contact: Yaquina Lights, Inc., Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, P.O. Box 410, Newport, OR 97365. Phone: (541) 574-3116. You can also visit their website at www.yaquinalights.org.
This story appeared in the
November 2005 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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