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Point Wilson, WA - $$4.95

Persistent fogginess and frequent tide rips across the broad sweep of shoals surrounding Point Wilson make it wise for mariners to give this area a wide berth. The broad sandy spit separates the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the entrance to Admiralty Inlet and is a pivotal spot for vessels passing from one to the other. This is where the lighthouse was positioned in 1879.

Point Wilson Lighthouse downloadable cardmodel

Point Wilson Lighthouse, Port Townsend, Wa

Point Wilson-image Persistent fogginess and frequent tide rips across the broad sweep of shoals surrounding Point Wilson make it wise for mariners to give this area a wide berth. The broad sandy spit separates the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the entrance to Admiralty Inlet and is a pivotal spot for vessels passing from one to the other. This is where the lighthouse was positioned in 1879.

In time erosion threatened to undercut the tower, and in 1914 a forty-six foot, octagonal masonry tower replaced the original wooden lighthouse. Set a safe distance from water's edge, the 1914 lighthouse still stands.


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Point Wilson Light house-imageTraditionally, sailing ships approached Port Townsend along the eastern shore of Admiralty Inlet. The Admiralty Head Light, established in 1861 on Whidbey Island, guided them into port. But steam-powered vessels, with their deeper drafts, favored the inlet's western side. As sail gave way to steam, shippers and citizens of Port Townsend lobbied for a light to mark the western shore.

An 1850s government survey proposed lighthouses on either side of Admiralty Inlet. And, in fact, one was established at Admiralty Head, on the west side of Whidbey Island, in 1861. But nearly two more decades of complaints and lobbying by mariners and local residents would be necessary before action was taken on the second.

Eventually, the Lighthouse Board responded, and on December 15, 1879, keeper David Littlefield lit the new station's lamps for the first time. A fourth-order Fresnel lens focused the light, and it was visible from any point along a sweeping 270 degrees of horizon.

The station's classic fourth-order lens remains in use.

The year was 1879 when the Lighthouse Board had the Point Wilson Light built. The new light, enhanced by a fourth-order Fresnel lens, shone from a square wooden tower rising from the roof of a two-story dwelling near the end of the point. Next to the light, workers erected a small fog signal house, where boilers created steam to power a 12-inch whistle. David Littlefield was hired as the first head keeper at an annual salary of $800. In later years, Littlefield became mayor of Port Townsend.

In 1914, the government replaced the original tower with today's octagonal lighthouse-a masonry and concrete structure attached to a fog signal building. The Fresnel optic from the old lantern was transferred to the new one and casts white and red beams 16 miles across the water. After the newer light was established, workers removed the original tower, although the frame house was spared and is still used as a residence.

The construction of 443-acre Fort Worden on the high ground behind the station beginning in 1897, forever changed the remote nature of the surroundings. The Army left in 1953, and two decades later the facility became a state park, complete with conference facilities.

Although it has operated automatically since 1977, Point Wilson Light remains active, currently maintained by an Aids to Navigation Team from Seattle. Coast Guard crews from the locally-based cutter Point Bennett live at the station
Viewing spot On site, Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend. Directions: From US 101, at Uncas, head north on SR 20 for 12.2 mi, into Port Townsend. Turn left onto Kearney St and go 0.35 mi, Turn right onto Blaine St and go 0.2 mi. Turn left onto Cherry St and continue 1.25 mi, to the park entrance (fee). Within the park, turn right. Visitors coming from the northeast may prefer to take the Keystone Port Townsend ferry (30-min crossing time).

Note. Fort Worden State Park is open daily, dawn to dusk, all year contact: (360) 385-4730, The Coast Guard Auxiliary opens the lighthouse for guided tours one day a week during the summer..Point Wilson keep out signThere was much fanfare when Point Wilson Lighthouse was established at the west side entrance to Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound in 1879. Its strategic location was near the bustling seaport town of Port Townsend, which was in those years targeted for the major shipping center for that corner of the world. Sailing vessels and steamers ran in and out of the port with regularity, and next to San Francisco no port had a more boisterous and sinful waterfront than did old Port Townsend. Houses of ill repute were numerous and the shanghaiing of sailors and drifters was a day to day occupation for both runners and grog shop owners.

Every navigator entering or departing Puget Sound had to take Point Wilson into his reckoning if he didn't want to strike an obstruction lurking under the salty brine. When the weather was clear one could properly give the point a wide berth, but the culprit was fog, and when it settled over the local waters, sailor beware. Unfortunately, for three decades after settlement of the area, mariners rounded Point Wilson without the assistance of either a guiding light or fog signal, rather incredulous when one considers the importance of the major turning point from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Admiralty Inlet.

Point Wilson keep out govt signPressure of the most determined variety finally got action from the Lighthouse Board to press Congress for funds, and on December 15, 1879 the beacon became a reality. It was a light of the fourth order, and to alert ships in foggy periods, a 12 inch steam whistle was installed.

David M. Littlefield, a veteran of the Civil War and a highly respected citizen of the community was the unanimous choice of the lighthouse inspector to serve as the guardian of the light.

Captain George Vancouver, the renowned British navigator probably rested easier in his grave knowing that the spike of land which he named Point Wilson was finally marked by a navigation aid. He rounded the tip of the sandy promontory in a heavy fog and was unable to judge the extent of the body of water into which he had entered. With some of his men charting the shore and others sounding in the boats, he continued sailing along the beach until another projection, now known as Point Hudson, was sighted. There as if by magic, the sun broke through revealing perhaps the most beautiful scenery ever seen by the eyes of the sea-weary Britishers. Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound were gazed upon in rapture. To the northeast, a white-domed mountain towered above the tree-covered foothills, reflecting the glow of the noonday sun. The Utopian site was the same mountain sighted earlier from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to which Vancouver applied the name Baker. Against the western horizon were the snow-capped peaks of the Olympics with their dynamic, sawtooth character, and above the skyline to the south, the greatest surprise of all-king over all it surveyed, the lofty 14,000 foot majestic, snow-covered mountain to which the explorer bestowed the name Rainier, after Rear Admiral Rainier of the British Navy. Unfortunately, little regard was given to the ageless name applied by the native Indians-Tahoma. Beneath that marvelous ring of mountain ranges spread a series of deep, intricate waterways, the fabulous inland sea which was named for another British man of the sea-Peter Puget. Puget Sound was to become a place set apart.

Point Wilson, once the haunt of Indians who brought their canoes to rest on its shores, and fished its bountiful waters for centuries, was now the site of a lighthouse. It was a 46 foot frame tower rising from the keeper's dwelling, with a fog signal unit attached. To differentiate the sentinel from the one on Admiralty Head, the fixed white light in the lantern was varied by a red flash every 20 seconds.

With each passing year Point Wilson Lighthouse became more important to commerce. In 1913, funds were granted for an improved facility, a formidable concrete structure with an octagonal tower rising 51 feet above the water. The fog signal was upgraded to a chime diaphragm status. The new station became operational in 1914. Still in mint condition, the lighthouse continues its vigil, and at this writing it was one of the last in the greater Puget Sound area that still maintained Coast Guard personnel on the premises. An important radio beacon is Point Wilson out buildngalso at the site.

It was Point Wilson light keeper William J. Thomas who dispatched word of the tragic collision between the coastwise passenger liner Governor and the freighter West Hartland in a thick fog off the point on April 1, 192 1. The keeper heard the grinding crash even though he was unable to see what had occurred. He was to learn later that the liner went down in deep water, claiming eight lives. The large number of passengers aboard were safety evacuated in the few minutes before the Governor took her final plunge. The badly damaged West Hartland remained afloat, her bow crumpled clear back to No. I hold. Hasty rescue operations picked up several survivors from the lifeboats.

In recent years divers have managed to reach the liner in 240 feet of water and bring up a few relics, with the hope they could recover the vessel's safe.

A share of vessels have met with mishap near Point Wilson, but the lighthouse has been a welcome sight to mariners ever since its inception. Though Port Townsend was destined to lose out to other Puget Sound ports as the hub of shipping, specifically after the rail links remained on the eastern shores of the Sound, it nevertheless played a key role in maritime history. The lighthouse became the greeter light for the entire Puget Sound area and continues that important role today.

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  "When Fiddlersgreen published the series of Washington lighthouses, it included the Point Wilson lighthouse, which is on the grounds of the fort. I decided that a model of the lighthouse was a great raffle item, so set about building one. I made this decision much later than I should have (I hate pressure) but managed to finish in time. I directly stole David Okamura's concept for a little diorama with the lighthouse.

Anyhow, I got it done, folks did appreciate it, (with the usual "is it really paper" comments) and it was won by a fellow who collects lighthouses, and everybody lived happily ever after. "
John Freeman (3/03)