Historical, Beautiful, and Functional
In the mid 1800s, the first lighthouses were built along the central & south Oregon coast to help ships navigate the rugged shoreline and busy ports. From Newport located approximately one-third of the way down the coastline, to Port Orford on the south Oregon coast roughly 65 miles from the border with California, there are seven lighthouses of note, each with it’s own story and admirers.
Lighthouses of the Central Oregon Coast
There are two lighthouses in the Newport area near the mouth of the Yaquina River. Completed in 1871, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is the elder of the pair, and the only historic wooden Oregon lighthouse still standing. The lighthouse, which stands 161 feet above the ocean, is located in Yaquina Bay State Park at the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge overlooking the northern side of the entrance to Yaquina Bay.
Just three years after the Yaquina Bay light’s original Fifth Order lens was first lit, the Lighthouse Board decided Yaquina Head, just four miles north, would be a better location for a light in this area of the central & south Oregon coast. The house sat empty for many years, stirring rumors that it was haunted. It eventually was restored by preservation groups and added to the National Register of Historic Places. On December 7, 1996, the light was re-lit, using a 250mm modern optic on loan from lighthouse historian James Gibbs. It displays a fixed white light that is visible for six miles.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which was built to replace the one on Yaquina Bay, was completed in 1873. Standing 93 feet high, about 162 feet above sea level, it is the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast. Its huge 12-foot high First Order fresnel lens can be seen 19 miles out to sea.
The light was automated on May 1, 1966. The original lens is still in place, but is now illuminated with an electric 1,000-watt globe. It has a signature of two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, then 14 seconds off.
Today the lighthouse is the centerpiece of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, and is one of the most-visited lights on the central & south Oregon coast, with over 400,000 visitors each year. Problems during the original construction and a series of mishaps over the years have led to stories that this Yaquina lighthouse is haunted as well, perhaps adding to its appeal.
Approximately two thirds of the way down the Oregon coast, just over 10 miles north of the town of Florence, sits Heceta Head Lighthouse, built in 1894. The lighthouse tower is 56 feet tall with a focal plane of 205 feet above sea level. The original first-order Fresnel lens was automated in 1963 and repaired and reactivated on March 15, 2001. The most powerful light along the Oregon coast, it can be seen 21 miles out to sea and is stopped only by the curvature of the earth.
One of the original buildings currently serves a popular bed and breakfast. The lighthouse and buildings, which are on the National Register of Historic Places, are the centerpieces of Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. Many locals and visitors consider Heceta Head their favorite lighthouse on the Oregon coast.
Another popular lighthouse on the central & south Oregon coast is the Umpqua River Lighthouse, located just south of Reedsport. The first lighthouse on the Oregon coast was built in 1857 on the north end of the Umpqua River at the entrance to Winchester Bay. Due to poor location and frequent storms, the original lighthouse was destroyed in 1864 and rebuilt in its current location on the south side of Winchester Bay between 1891 and 1894.
The lighthouse, which stands 65 feet tall, is known for its unique red and white flashing beacon. Its First Order Fresnel lens was automated in 1966 and can be seen for 20 miles. The lighthouse is part of Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.
South Oregon Coast Lighthouses
Guarding the entrance to Coos Bay, on a small, detached piece of land with sheer cliffs called Chief’s Island, is Cape Arago Lighthouse, the third to be built on this site. The light was built after the lighthouse on the Umpqua River collapsed in 1861. That first Cape Arago light was replaced in 1909 with a new tower and fog signal building. In 9134, these wooden structures were replaced with the present octagonal 40-foot concrete tower.
In 1993 the Cape Arago Light was renovated by the Coast Guard, and the original Fourth Order lens was replaced by a modern beacon. It was deactivated in 2006, but there has been talk of efforts to bring the light back into operation. The site is not open to the public, but can be viewed from adjacent Sunset Bay State Park, just south of Charleston.
The High Victorian Italiante architecture of the Coquille River Lighthouse makes it one of the most unique lighthouses along the central & south Oregon coast. The short 40-foot tower and small Fourth Order lens were built at the mouth of the Coquille River near Bandon, Oregon to guide ships across the treacherous bar at the entrance to the river. Completed in 1896, it was the last lighthouse to be built on the Oregon coast.
The Coquille River light served for just over four decades before being replaced by an automated beacon on the jetty in 1939. After many years of neglect and deterioration, it was restored by the Oregon State Parks and is now a part of Bullard’s Beach State Park.
At roughly 65 miles north of the border with California and just a few miles from Port Orford Oregon, Cape Blanco Lighthouse is the southernmost light on the Oregon coast. Sitting 245 feet above sea level on the coastal cliffs that jut out one and a half miles into the Pacific Ocean, Cape Blanco is the most westerly lighthouse on the U.S. mainland.
The light, which stands 59 feet high was first lit in December of 1870, and is Oregon’s oldest remaining lighthouse. In 1936 the original first-order fresnel lens was replaced with a Second Order rotating fresnel. The light was vandalized in 1992 but repaired and relit two years later. Cape Blanco Lighthouse is located on restricted Coast Guard grounds near Cape Blanco State Park. Gates to the facility are opened daily April 1st to October 31st.
These seven central & south Oregon coast lighthouses are wonderful additions to an area already packed with amazing scenery, natural resources and recreational opportunities. There are also two lighthouses of note on the north Oregon coast. Cape Meares Lighthouse is an operational lighthouse is located about 10 miles west of Tillamook, Oregon off Highway 101 in Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is now privately owned and is used today as a crypt for the cremated. There are several other privately owned lighthouses along the Oregon coast as well.
A visit to one or more of Oregon’s lighthouses makes for an interesting and enjoyable trip for anyone with an interest in history, shipping, architecture, engineering, scenery, photography, and the ocean in general.