There is a nostalgia surrounding lighthouses. They are cloaked in history, and speak to us of dedication, stormy nights at sea and dangers avoided. The San Juan Islands are ringed by five light houses, indicated on the adjacent map. You may have sailed past them before, perhaps given them a glance of respect for the service they provide you as a mariner, but do you know their stories?
Let’s take a look at these lighthouses and the histories behind them.
Patos Island Lighthouse – The northern-most lighthouse in Washington, Patos Island Lighthouse is just past Sucia Island on the Northwest point of Patos Island. The lighthouse began operation in 1893 but the current light tower was built in 1908. It was manned until 1974 when the light was automated. The Patos light was built to serve as a navigational guide to ships traveling to and from Vancouver and Nanaimo, through the straight of Georgia and Boundary Pass. Helene Glidden wrote a book called “The Light on the Island,” which was inspired by her life on Patos as daughter of the light keeper. Her father Edward, her mother, and her 12 siblings lived on Patos from 1905 to 1913 while Edward served as lighthouse keeper. For more history, click here.
Turn Point Lighthouse – This lighthouse, located on the northwest point of Stuart Island, recently became part of the San Juan Islands National Monument. It was built in 1893 and had 9 keepers before it was automated in 1974. The light, at the aptly named Turn Point, marks the turning point for those entering/exiting the north end of Haro Straight. In 1897 the keeper and assistant keeper were awarded special citations for their roles in rescuing the tug “Enterprise,” which had gone aground on the rocks. The fog signal at Turn Point was originally powered by a steam engine. It was upgraded to an oil engine in 1899 to give it more “oomph.” For more information, click here.
Lime Kiln Lighthouse – This is the newest lighthouse in Washington, established in 1914. Located on the western side of San Juan Island, it was established to watch over Haro Strait in response to several large vessel groundings that occurred at nearby Kellett Bluff. The Lime Kiln Lighthouse was named after the nearby kilns used to turn island limestone into lime for use in mortar. Its light was automated in 1962 but the two original keeper dwellings still house personnel at Lime Kiln State Park. For more information, click here.
Cattle Point Lighthouse – This lighthouse is the southern-most of all the lighthouses in the San Juan Islands, and the second one located on San Juan Island. It watches over the south end of Haro Straight. In use since 1888, the Navy actually installed a radio compass station there in 1921 and took over management of the light until the compass station was closed in 1935. At that point the current structure was built. Here’s a fun fact: in 1984 the tower was used in the backdrop of an Exxon commercial. For more facts about the lighthouse, click here.
Burrows Island Lighthouse – Located on the westernmost tip of Burrows Island, this light was built in response to several shipwrecks on nearby Dennis Shoal and Lawson Reef. It benefits mariners traveling between Rosario Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The tower stands 34-feet high and its first lighting took place in April 1906. The light’s range reaches over 10 miles. It was automated in 1972. For more information, click here.
When you’re island hopping through the San Juan Islands this summer, keep an eye out for these beautiful lighthouses. If it’s dark out, they won’t be hard to find.
The lighthouse photos listed are courtesy of the great site, Lighthouse Friends.