Cape Blanco Lighthouse
The Suc-qua-cha-ta-ny (or "Sixes" Indian) name for the promontory where the lighthouse stands is Pen-yek-kwet, meaning 'finger-nail-upon'. This is a very descriptive name, as the cape appears to be the finger nail upon the landscape; a long, thin promontory sticking out from the rest of the coastline. The area was named "Cape Blanco" (meaning "White Cape") in 1603 by Spanish explorers who sailed along the coast but didn't make landfall.
It wasn't until the 1850s that Euro-Americans first explored the headland. In 1852, placer gold was discovered at Whisky Run beach (about 5 miles north of Bandon), and a year later other deposits were found along the lower Coquille River. These strikes brought many men into the area; settlements were begun and the first lumbering started. After the gold strikes the town of Port Orford became a hub of economic activity. The increased ship traffic resulted in many wrecks on rocks around Cape Blanco, which provided the impetus for construction of the lighthouse.
Cape Blanco was purchased by the US Lighthouse Board in 1867. Col. Robert Stockton Williamson was put in charge of lighthouse construction, which began in June, 1870. By October, the structure was completed.
In November, 1870, the US Lighthouse Board issued a "Notice to Mariners", stating that as of the morning of December 20, the Cape Blanco lighthouse would be illuminated. This notice described the facilities "...the dome of the lantern is painted red, the other parts of it white....The keeper's dwelling is a two-story brick building, painted white with green blinds, and placed about 100 feet to the south of the tower."
The light was described as a "...fixed white light, of the 1st order of the system of Fresnel, will be exhibited...every evening...from sunset to sunrise."
The first of several recorded earthquakes reported at cape Blanco rolled through on the night of November 22, 1873. The keeper recorded "...a short vibratory motion that lasted from thirty to forty seconds loosening much of the putty in the joints of the lens and breaking the prisms some at the corners but not seriously damaging anything."
Today, there is an earthquake monitoring station on the cape, which is one of the most tectonically active places along the west coast of North America. In 1936 the Coast Guard electrified the light, replacing the fixed 1st order lens with a flashing (rotating) 2nd order lens. Fragmentary records refer to the lens as an object built in 1930 and possessing a lens drive (motor and reduction gear) also built in 1930 (but presumably not installed until 1936).
At the beginning of WWII, the Coast Guard quickly moved to close the cape to the public and improve road access. It served as a headquarters for coastal defense and housed US Army personnel who patrolled the beaches, looking for the expected Japanese invasion forces. The Japanese also used the Cape Blanco Lighthouse - as a landmark for two successful attempts to bomb the US mainland. A sea plane, carried on a small submarine, was launched against the coastline, dropping incendiary bombs which started forest fires east of Port Orford.
During the 1950s, several types of long-range radio navigation systems were placed on the headland. The Coast Guard replaced several buildings constructed in the 1930s for these "non-optical aids to navigation" and added several others.
The lighthouse was automated in March, 1980. Many of the communications and living facilities existing on the headland were demolished at this time.
In 1993 the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1994, the BLM signed an interim permit to manage the lighthouse. BLM management is directed by "Partners" composed of interested individuals and organizations. The team consists of representatives from the BLM, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the the Friends of Cape Blanco, Curry County, the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.
This lighthouse holds at least four Oregon records; it is the oldest continuously operating light, the most westerly, the highest above the sea and Oregon's first woman keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton signed on in 1903. The cape is open to visitors Tuesday through Sunday, from April through October (10:00 AM to 3:30PM). A greeting center provides displays of Native American and lighthouse-related photographs and memorabilia.
The lighthouse, including the 59 foot high tower, also is open to visitors.
The lighthouse, including the 59 foot high tower, also is open to visitors. Tours of the tower are available for $2 per person (holders of several federal recreation passes and people under 16 are admitted for free). Money collected is used to help defray the costs of lighthouse repair and maintenance.