What Makes a Lighthouse So Appealing?

The Coquille Lighthouse sits on a point jutting out into the Coquille River opposite of Bandon, Oregon. Its replacement, an automated beacon, can be seen on the left across the river on the South Jetty. A glimpse of the Pacific Ocean appears on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)


I am sure that there are people who drive by lighthouses never noticing their existence. I am not one. There is something romantic about them that pulls me in. Maybe it is their historic role: saving mariners from crashing into rocky shoals and other shoreline hazards. Or maybe it is their isolation and the thought of a lighthouse keeper’s lonely life. Having a bit of hermit in me, I can easily envision such a life-style, assuming, of course, that I have my good buddy and a boatload of books along. Or possibly it’s their setting along dramatic ocean and lake shorelines. Rocky shorelines offer beauty as well as hazards.

The history of the Coquille River Lighthouse was closely tied to the logging industry. Early lumber barons wanted to get at the virgin forests located along the Coquille River. Access was relatively easy, assuming ships could cross the hazardous bar located at the mouth of the river next to Bandon. A jetty was built out into the ocean, which led to the creation of a deep channel. The lighthouse was built to guide ships along this channel. The 1890 funding proposal stated:

“A light of the fourth order with a fog-signal, at this point, would enable vessels bound into the river to hold on close to the bar during the night so that they would be in a position to cross at the next high water. The light would also serve as a coast light and would be of much service to vessels bound up and down the river.”

“A light of the fourth order,” refers to the type of the Fresnel lens used in the lighthouse. Fresnel lens are made up of multiple lens arranged in concentric circles around the light source. If you’ve been in a lighthouse, you will have likely seen one. They range in size from the first to the sixth order. Fourth order Fresnel lights could normally be seen for 15 miles out to sea and were commonly used to guide mariners into harbor mouths.

A Fresnel lens of the sixth order on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. This light could be seen for about five miles and would be used in harbors and along rivers.

Funding was approved by Congress and the lighthouse was functioning by the mid-1890s. It was operated up until 1939 when the Coast Guard took it over and determined that a less expensive, automated beacon placed on the end of the Bandon South Jetty would work as well. The abandoned lighthouse was neglected up until 1976 when it was taken over by the state of Oregon as part of Bullard’s Beach State Park. A joint effort by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers restored the lighthouse as an historic attraction. Various efforts since have maintained it, much to the enjoyment of thousands of visitors— including us.

Peggy and I stayed at the state park while we were visiting Bandon and used one of our mornings to go over and check out the Coquille Lighthouse, North Jetty and Bullard’s Beach. The following photos record our visit.

Peggy and I walked around the lighthouse to capture photos from various angles. I took this from the river’s edge. Low tide enabled me to shoot from below the tide line. The North Jetty stretches off to the left.

Peggy caught this close up.

And I took this picture looking over sea grass. Parts of Bandon can be seen across the river. We were on our way to walk out the North Jetty.

One of the first things that struck me about the jetty was the amount of driftwood piled up along it. This reflects the power of the ocean. It also warns that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the jetty in a storm.

Peggy posed for me in front of this large stump on top of the jetty, a remnant of logging up the river and along the coast.

I returned the favor posing for Peggy out toward the end of the jetty. A wave can be seen breaking over the end. And this is at low tide! We stayed far back. I would bet that people have been swept off of here while trying to photograph winter waves. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I appreciated the sea gulls adding a touch of sea life to my photo. One wave hits the end of the jetty while another rolls in. Watch out for the ninth!

A pair of seals with their big dark eyes swam along the side of the jetty and checked us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A view north from the jetty along Bullard’s Beach shows again how much driftwood (drift logs?) is brought in by winter storms.

Peggy took this shot looking up from Bullard’s Beach toward the lighthouse.

And this photo of a fort someone had built taking advantage of the driftwood. You can imagine the amount of fun kids would have building and playing in such a fort. Adults too. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I added a close up.

Walking along the beach we found a flock of Sanderlings. These small shorebirds are a delight to watch as they charge in unison along the beach following the tide as it rises and falls in search of delectable bugs. I liked the reflection provided by the receding water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Get too close and off they fly, whirling in unison as they head a few yards up the beach to continue their endless search for dinner.

I’ll close today with this final shot of the coastal land that backs up to Bullard’s Beach.


Wednesday: While Bone waits to be found, we continue our backpack trip down the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail— finding our way through deep snow, crossing a raging river, and running from kamikaze mosquitoes.

Friday: Murals and other wild/weird art of Burning Man.

Monday: I travel north up Oregon’s coast and explore a cave filled with lions, sea lions that is.


30 thoughts on “What Makes a Lighthouse So Appealing?

  1. We, too, are suckers for lighthouses — architecture, purpose, lone-standing nature. We’re just drawn to them. And we’ve met others who are also. Some people “collect” photos and memories of all the lighthouses they’ve seen — kind of like a bucket list of must-see lighthouses — and then tell us how many they’ve seen so far. And we can see why. We’ve even heard you can book several days or a week in some of them which I think would be fascinating to do — but only for a day or two!

    • Hard not to be a ‘sucker for lighthouses,’ huh, Rusha, when you think about their elegance and location. In addition to collecting photos, you can also collect replicas. I saw a whole roomful last week at the Umpqua Lighthouse. I should have taken a photo. And you are right, many of the homes that lighthouse keepers stayed in have now become B&Bs or simple rentals, or even hostels. –Curt

  2. We too love to visit lighthouses.
    Last trip along California brought us to Pigeon point.
    Not only do they offer a beacon of safety, they are homes to the men (and women) who manned them in many a storm

  3. During the Civil War, my gr-gr-grandfather’s 34th Iowa made it down to Boca Chica on the Rio Grande, and then marched up the coast toward Galveston. Prior to one of the battles that took place near Port Lavaca, the Confederate forces removed the light from the Matagorda lighthouse and buried it in the sand. It was a fresnel lens, and they took good enough care that it could be reinstalled and used post-war. The lighthouse is still there.

    And, the staysail boom for my beloved Morning Star lived for several years in the Lydia Ann channel lighthouse. The old Galveston light is gone now: replaced by one of those electronic flashing lights. It does its job, but it’s not nearly so appealing to romantics.

    • Came across an interesting story on Matoagorga on the Friends of Lighthouse site:” On a warm, muggy evening in October 1918, the islands powerful light attracted an inordinate number of flying insects. The keeper thus described the scene: “During the night from the 12th to 13th instant it was calm and not a bit of air, and the bugs got so thick around the lantern that they obscured the light. The small bugs got in through the ventilators, even though I have screen wire over them. I had to shovel the bugs up in the lantern, as well as on the lantern gallery, by the shovelful.”
      I found the metal structure strange. I don’t recall any lighthouses I have seen to be built with steel plating.
      I agree on the flashing lights! Guess that makes me a romantic… 🙂
      One of Tony’s jobs as a helicopter pilot in Alaska, BTW, was to help maintain the lights.
      Have you done a blog on Morning Star, Linda. If so, could you give me the URL? –Curt

  4. These photos sucked me in and reminded me how much I love the Oregon coast. It is rugged, violent at times, but also breathtakingly beautiful. We too seem to be unable to pass by a lighthouse without stopping. Excellent capture of this scenic spot!

    • Thank’s Joanne. Having spent the majority of my ‘coast-time’ over the years exploring Northern and Central California coast from Big Sur to the Redwoods, I’ve been delighted with the opportunity to explore Oregon’s coast more thoroughly. I’d been up and down it several times over they years but never found locations I liked and spent days or weeks exploring the area. That’s changed now and Peggy and I are loving it. (Not that there is anything shabby about the Central and North Coast of California. 🙂 In fact, I’ll be down on the Cental coast in a couple of weeks.) –Curt

  5. Another great set of photos to look at and enjoy. The driftwood like historic picture telling. That huge chunk of the tree-stump with Peggy in front. One can imagine the force of the storm chucking that lump onto the shore.
    Lighthouse keepers must have led rather solitary lives. I admire their dedication to the safety and welfare of mariners.

    • Thanks, Girard.
      My thoughts exactly on the huge stump Peggy was standing next to. I love the powerful winter storms on the ocean and the crashing waves, but it is best to keep your distance. Can you imagine being sucked into an ocean that was filled with those logs?!
      One of the things I found was that it was a family thing. Children would follow their parents into the business on occasion. –Curt

  6. The romantic thing about lighthouses was that they had lighthouse keepers. People used to actually work in them. There are no manned lighthouses left in the UK anymore. They are all controlled from one anonymous. central computer.

    • Have to agree, Andrew. There is nothing romantic about an automated beacon. The old lighthouses are still lovely, however. I am glad they have saved them. And you know what I find romantic even though it is automated, a fog horn on a foggy night! –Curt

  7. I love lighthouses. Always thought I’d like to live in one. In fact, one of my favorite “happy places” that I escape to mentally is at Pemaquid Point in Maine, where we could see 4 other lighthouses blinking back at the lighthouse on the cliff of the Atlantic where we stood. Magical!

    • Looked it up and soaked in the photos, Juliann. It is indeed beautiful. I can see why it is one of your ‘happy places.’ I’ve wandered up and down the coast of Maine a few times (always beautiful), but haven’t been there. –Curt

  8. Curt, in our time living on both coasts, we’ve visited our share of lighthouses and seen beaucoup Fresnel lenses, but I’ve never read that about the different degrees. Given when they were manufactured, imagine the difficulty of getting all those individual lenses perfect. ~James

    • It was a long, expensive process, James. And imagine the cost now if you have to replace one. A guide at the Umpqua lighthouse told us that one of the lens had been broken, and it cost as much to replace it as they had paid for the light originally! –Curt

  9. I love your photographs and I too have a love for lighthouses. I once lived at Lighthouse Beach Port Macquarie and then moved to live in Byron Bay on the mid north coast of New South Wales, Australia. The Lighthouse at Byron Bay and its surrounding ocean views are spectacular. Thanks for this great post!

  10. Wonderful photos. I wonder what archaeologists/paleontologists of the future will make of that mixture of driftwood and man-made objects. We saw a Fresnel lens up close when we stayed on Lake Michigan at St Joseph a couple of years ago, and I thought it was both beautiful and immensely clever.

    • Another English blogger I follow, Andrew Petcher, and I were in a discussion this week about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. One of the questions was about what we would leave behind that people of the future will ponder. Maybe lighthouses will be one. I agree on the beauty of the lens. –Curt

  11. This is just such a beautifully executed post, Curt. I am familiar with the area of Bandon and the lovely lighthouse. You really captured it. Really lingered over the capture of the lighthouse with the sea-grass. Thank you. All my best, JoHanna

    • Thanks, JoHanna. Peggy and I really enjoyed Bandon and the surrounding area. We found it hard to believe that we had missed stopping on our former jaunts up and down the coast. It won’t happen again. 🙂 There is the added advantage that it is relatively close to our home. –Curt

  12. Pingback: What Makes a Lighthouse So Appealing? – Wonderwall

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