Cape Blanco, Oregon
The "This Little Light of Mine" series by Harbour Lights are miniature versions of the Harbor Light's lighthouses
Cape Blanco juts out one and a half miles into the Pacific Ocean from Oregon's southern coast. At the end of the cape is a large headland with 200-foot cliffs along most of its perimeter. These chalky cliffs prompted early Spanish explorers to name this landmark, which is the most westerly point in Oregon, Cape Blanco or White Cape. Before construction began on the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the site was covered with a dense spruce forest, but the trees had to be felled to prevent obstruction of the light. Besides producing a good supply of lumber, the deforestation also eliminated any chance of a forest fire endangering the station.
Since no roads led to the cape, the following cost saving decision, as recorded in the 1869 report of the Lighthouse Board to Congress, was made.
Having every reason to believe that much money could be saved, if brick could be made at the cape instead of bringing them from San Francisco, at an enormous expense for transportation, an agreement was made with a person who lived in the vicinity, to furnish two hundred thousand brick, at the light-house site, for $25 per thousand, about a third the cost for transportation alone from San Francisco. About eighty thousand of these brick, made last fall, were of fair quality, and were accepted and paid for. The second kiln burned this spring were not of good enough quality, and were rejected.
The remainder of the supplies required to construct the lighthouse had to be landed at the cape through the surf. The first delivery arrived in May of 1870. When the vessel was partially unloaded, a gale struck, driving the ship onto the beach and causing the loss of the remainder of the cargo. Another shipment arrived in July, and the tower and keeper duplex were completed by December 20th, when the tower commenced operation.
Since the lighthouse was far from any harbor, its primary function was to warn ships away from the reefs, which extended from the cape, and to provide a position fix for navigators. The light from a powerful first-order Fresnel lens with a fixed, white signature served this function well.
The first principal keeper at the station was H.B. Burnap, who had served at Oregon's first lighthouse near the Umpqua River, before its collapse in 1863. Burgan had been living in Port Orford, nine miles south of Cape Blanco, when he received his new assignment.
The town of Port Orford was established two decades before construction of the lighthouse. Louis Knapp, proprietor of the town's Knapp Hotel, was so concerned about the safety of the mariners navigating this dangerous section of the Oregon coast, that he kept a lantern burning nightly in the hotel's large window that overlooked the sea. Burnap's light burning brightly just up the coast, made Knapp's lamp unnecessary.
James Langlois and James Hughes were both stationed at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse for their entire career, which lasted 42 years for Langlois and at least 33 years for Hughes. Hopefully they got along well, as they spent most of those years at the lighthouse together. Hughes was the second son of Patrick and Jane Hughes, whose 2,000 acre ranch bordered the lightstation property. The ranch is now Cape Blanco State Park, and the Hughes' home, a two-story Victorian built in 1898 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, remains standing and is open to the public for tours.
By the late 1890s, Keeper Hughes had two children and Langlois five. Fortunately, the second assistant keeper, who lived with the families in the station's duplex, was single, but still the duplex was becoming crowded. The inspector requested the construction of an additional dwelling at the cape, but it took almost ten years of requests before the new dwelling was completed in 1908.
Around 1910, a hood was placed around the lamp, and a clockwork mechanism was used to raise and lower the hood to produce a flashing signature. In 1936, the original lens was replaced by a slightly smaller revolving lens with eight bull's-eyes. The new lens was rotated by an electric motor, powered by a generator. The motor and lens are still operating in the tower today.
In 1980, the lighthouse was automated. Twelve years later, two local teenagers broke into the lighthouse and with a sledgehammer smashed one of the lens' bull's-eyes and six smaller prisms. The boys were eventually apprehended and convicted. After a nation-wide search, Larry Hardin of Hardin Optical Company in nearby Bandon was selected to repair the lens. By the spring of 1994, the lens had been repaired using Corning Pyrex, at a cost of $80,000.
After a road to the station was completed in 1886, visitors occasionally came to the station to see the lighthouse. Between 1896 and 1916, more than 4,000 visitors signed the guest book. After years of being off-limits, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse was once again opened to visitors on April 1, of 1996.
Full-time RVers often serve as docents at the lighthouse, and in exchange receive a free campsite and hook-up at Cape Blanco State Park. In 1995, two such people, who also happened to be artists, painted an 8 by 20 foot mural inside the greeting center near the lighthouse. The mural depicts Oregon's coast with all nine remaining lighthouses.
In September of 2002, the Fresnel lens was removed from the tower for restoration work as the caulking, which cemented the thousands of prisms to the brass frame, was starting to deteriorate. Hardin Optical of Bandon was again tasked to work on the lens, and succeeded in disassembling and recaulking the lens. The lighthouse itself underwent restorative work in the Spring of 2003, when the tower's copper roof and lantern room windows were replaced, and the brickwork was repaired and painted. Shortly after Memorial Day of 2003, the reunited tower and lens were once again open to visitors.
Cape Blanco's two keepers' dwellings, oil house, water tower, and other utility buildings are all long gone, but the majestic tower, the centerpiece of the station, remains, and visitors are allowed to ascend the spiral staircase to the lantern room, where the repaired lens can be viewed.
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