Many years ago, durng the Miocene Epoch, the Coast Range was elevated and basins were formed.
The Tillamook Basin was one of the areas. In areas all over the Northwest enourmous amounts of lava flowed from the vents. In the Tillamook area two centers of this activity were Cape Meares and Cape Lookout. The three Arch Rocks are also a part of this flow. These two basalt outcropping were both candidates for the lighthouse.
Captain John Meares was the first Englishman to chart the northern outcropping and he named it Cape Lookout.
Lighthouse Placement Considerations
The object was to place the lightouse where their beams would meet and cross each other so that a ship was never out of signt of a light. The first lighthouse constructed was at Cape Disappointment on the north side of the Columbia River. At the time that area was part of the Oregon Territory. Next was the Umpqua Lighthouse built in 1857.
In 1886, Captain Powell, of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, noted that Cape Meares was covered with good soil with spruce and hemlock timber. The southern point of the Cape extended another 200-300 feet further into the ocean and was free of timber. Also, he noted that there was a spring which would furnish the water for construction purposes.
Captain Peterson traveled by trail over Cape Meares to Netarts Bay, crossed the Bay, walked 6 miles down the beach to Cape Lookout, and then climbed the ridge, approximately 900 ft. There was not a trail at that time that led to the end of the Cape. It was covered with thick brush and fallen timbers. He then walked over 2 miles, following bear trails, with two other men. It took them a whole day to reach the point and back.
For location purposes, Cape Lookout divides the distance between Tillamook Rock and Yaquina Head. That was the only plus factor with too many minuses: one being the heavy fog and another difficulty of getting any equipment to the Cape.
Local loggers were subcontracted to do the hauling from the Bay to the site. A lighthouse tender brought materials and supplies into Tillamook Bay.
The plan was that a road would need to be built following the beach above the high water line; four miles up the beach, to the point of a small stream. The trail would then follow the stream along the side of the hill at a grade of about 5 ft. per 100. According to surveryor, George Freeman , the cost of the road would be prohibitive at $2070.
With a change in plans, a scow was used to bring materials and supplies from the end of the spit on the south end. Then a team of horses and oxen would bring it up the station site. The final works of grading and all buildings amounted to $33,829 paid to Robert Seaman of Portland, Oregon. The total coast of the project was $44,529.
Preparations for the building plans began in 1887, were approved and authorized, contracts were awarded, work began, was completed and inspected. The lighthouse was put into service in 1890.
According to Cleveland Rockwell, Corps of Engineers, "Contrary to the legends that the lighthouse was misplaced, it is obvious that they knew exactly where and why the lighthouse was going to be built. Cape Meares was the practical choice."
References: Cape Meares and its Sentinel, Jensen and Fairfield
Geodetic Survey 1887
Captain John Meares was the first to sail into Tillamook Bay, naming it Quick Sand Bay because of the mud at low tide. Captain Robert Gray was the first American on the scene and he called it Murderers Harbor because one of his crew was killed by natives there.
The lighthouse was built in 1889 and commissioned on January 1, 1890. The tower stands 38 feet high and is the shortest lighthouse in Oregon. It is constructed of bricks (made right on site at a cost of $2,900) with iron plates covering it. The original addition that now houses the interpretive shop was a work room built in 1895 - the current interpretive shop replaced the original work room in 1978.
The light was a five wick oil lamp with a reflector to increase the light. It was turned by a 200 pound lead weight that was wound by a system similar to a grandfather clock. It turned 2 ½ hours on one winding at a pace of 4 minutes per full revolution. The lens and iron housing weighed two tons complete. The two oil storage buildings held 3,240 gallons of oil in five gallon cans and were located east of the lighthouse. The walls were made 15 inches thick to protect the area from the danger of fire in the buildings.
The original lens is a first order Fresnel (pronounced "Fraynel") lens made in Paris, France. It was shipped around Cape Horn, up the west coast to Cape Meares and then hauled 217 feet up the cliff by a wooden crane that was built from local timbers native to the area. It is an eight-sided lens with 4 primary lenses and 4 bull's-eye lenses with red panels covering the bull's-eye lenses. It produced about 30 seconds of fixed white light from the primary lens followed by a red flash of 5 seconds from the bull's-eye lens once every minute. This was the signature of Cape Meares Lighthouse. The primary lens produced 18,000 candlepower and the bull's-eye lens produced 160,000 candlepower. The light could be seen 21 nautical miles at sea.
The oil lamp was replaced in 1910 with an oil vapor light similar to the Coleman lanterns of today. This was replaced in 1934 with electricity produced by generators and eventually by central power. The light today is automated and produces 57,000 candle power. It is located in a building adjacent to the historic structure.
The keepers houses were located where the parking lot and kiosk are now situated. The houses cost $26,000 to build. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1963, stood vacant for a number of years and was heavily vandalized.
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