Cape Flattery, Washington
In 1778, explorer Capt. James Cook was visiting the northernmost tip of the Olympic Peninsula when an opening along the coast was mistaken for a harbor or passage, which “flattered” him. Thus he named the inlet Cape Flattery, and writing in his logbook: In this very latitude geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca. But nothing of that kind presented itself to our view, nor is it probable that any such thing ever existed.
However, the Strait was, indeed, not far away and was confirmed by later explorers. The island of Tatoosh lies about a half mile off Cape Flattery and it is on this land – owned, in fact, by the Makah Indians and named in honor of an 18th Century chief – that Cape Flattery Lighthouse was built and first lit in 1857. Located at the northwestern-most point of the continental US, Tatoosh Island is still owned by the Makah Nation, though the lighthouse is owned and maintained by the US Coast Guard.
When construction was underway, workers were on guard against any resistance by the Makah to the intrusion on their ancestral hunting land. However, the Indians did nothing to hinder or harm the crew. As with most early west coast lighthouses, the building was a one-and-a-half-story dwelling with the tower protruding through the center of the roof. With the wet and wild weather of the region, the design permitted keepers to access the tower without exposure to the elements.
The island was remote and lonely, and there was a succession of keepers who quit over low pay and poor conditions. In a bureaucratic show of nepotism, a customs inspector named his father as chief keeper, and during his tenure, the facility and the light fell into disrepair. This prompted a decision to hire families so the lighthouse would not “be at the mercy of rollicking bachelors.” It was more than 20 years before the first family was employed as keepers. And though conditions improved over the years, the isolation prompted keepers to hire local Indians $1 per trip to transport people, supplies and mail on calm days; twice that amount on days the sea was rough. The “Indian delivery service” even delivered a piano!
The First Order Lens was replaced with a Fourth Order Fresnel Lens around 1930. In 1977, the station was automated. With automation came the island’s last inhabitants. Currently the island is not open to the public. The Cape Flannery Trail leads to the tip of the cape where observation platforms offer views of Tatoosh Island and the beautiful old lighthouse.
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