Westport, Washington

The Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse

We’re settled in a very nice campground in Hoaquiam, Washington, The Hoquiam River RV Park.  Hoaquiam is a tired old town. Its downtown has as many closed stores as open.  Most of its houses are small and its my guess that they were company housing for the timber industry workers.  Like many such towns Hoaquiam had its heyday when the lumber industry was booming, but now tetters on the edge of poverty. Its surrounded by many places to visit though.  No malls here, just forest, trails, waterways and beaches.

So last week we took a trip to Westport, which is a fishing and crabbing community.  It’s home to the Grays Harbor Lighthouse and Westport Maritime Museum.

The Coast Guard has a strong presence here.  During the summer months the lighthouse, which is under the care of The Coast Guard, hires RV workers to give tours of the lighthouse in exchange for a free RV site.

Docents Needed – We found this of interest for the future.

The lighthouse is pretty far inland from the harbor.  It  was explained during the tour that when it was built it was close to the water.  In recent times a jetty system at the entrance of the harbor has caused the land mass to extend farther into the harbor and at this time the lighthouse is about 3,000 feet from the shore.

The lighthouse was built by the architect Carl Leick and was completed in 1898.  He felt it was his “masterpiece” and was in attendance during much of the building.  When you enter the building you see a circular tile mosaic on the floor.  According to our guide, this is a trademark sign of Carl Leick’s work.

Carl Leick’s creation.

Upon entering the lighthouse the docent gives a history of the building of the lighthouse.  It has a 12 foot sandstone foundation and is the highest lighthouse in Washington, 107 feet tall.  The walls, constructed of brick, are 4 feet thick at the base and taper on the outside only, and are an octagonal shape.

An 107 foot octagon

  The inside circumference is the same at the base as the top.  There are 135 metal steps bolted to the tower walls.

The apparent narrowing of the staircase is an illusion. The tapering of the building is on the outside walls only.
The steps are bolted to the walls

This painting on display on the ground floor shows the windmill which pumped water to a building.  There a coal fire produced steam, which in turn powered the fog signal.  It took 200 pounds of coal an hour to keep the signal going.  The smokestack venting this fire is shown in the picture to the left of the lighthouse on top of the larger building.  

Painting of operational lighthouse. Was used as a poster for the centennial celebration of the lighthouse opening.


The Head Lighthouse Keeper had a single dwelling home and the two Assistant Lighthouse Keepers had a duplex type home.  The families lived onsite with the keepers, something that wasn’t always feasible with the lighthouses that were situated on remote islands.  The Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse homes were torn down in order to put up modern housing for Coast Guard families.  However, the houses at Point Disappointment, further south of here are still intact.  We took these photos on a later day trip to the lighthouse there.

Duplex living for the Assistant Lighthouse Keepers


Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Home

The houses were a distance from the lighthouse.  This walkway provided access.

Walkway connecting lighthouse grounds and homes.

Photo on the right was taken from the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper’s houses were more pleasing to the eye than the current housing.

Coast Guard family homes
Old photo of the original homes.

After climbing our way to the small room directly below the light we stopped once again and the docent explained a little more of how the light operated.  The lens was a Fresnel lens manufactured by Henry-Lepaute of Paris.  The company sent a representative from France to help set up the light correctly .  It had red and white flashes separated by five seconds.  Evidently each lighthouse along the Pacific coastline had a different flash time.  By observing these flashes ship captains could note their location and accurately set their navigation.  The light could be seen up to 16 miles out to sea.

Looking up from the room directly below the Fresnel lens it is possible to view a side of the large lens.  I really like this photo.

Looking up at the light

At the end of the tour the docent took us to the top of the tower.  We were so close to the lens that we could only photograph a part of the lens, but it gives an idea of the beauty and workmanship of this remarkable invention.

Fresnel Lens

This photo was taken at the center of the lens looking at the bulb inside.



Lens Bulb

The lens floated in a container of mercury which eliminated any friction when the lens was moving.

This bin held mercury, which has since been removed.

The lens was rotated by a weight that hung at the top of the tower.

Turning mechanism

A different angle, which shows how close the lens is to the ceiling.

Lens connection to weight that rotated it.

This is the light that The Coastguard currently uses.  It’s attached to the outer wall of the  lighthouse and can be worked on from inside the top floor of the building, next to the old lens.  Effective but not beautiful.

Current light which still keeps ships from crashing on the rocks near the Westport Harbor.

Our docent was very informative and obviously loved this building.  He told us that these brass openings, which are in the wall in the small room below the lens, allowed heat from the lens to warm the room at night.  A small cot was in this room for the attending worker, but I doubt he caught much sleep when on duty.

Early Heater Vent

After our tour we drove a short distance to the harbor where the Westport Maritime Museum is housed.

Welcome Sign


Its a typical nautical building built in 1940 as the command center for The Coast Guard in this area.

Date on side of building

The museum is full of nautical memorabilia.

Painting of old Coast Guard rescue boat

One interesting section covered another subject.  Cranberries!  The area has over 1,000 acres of cranberry bogs.

These are Bog Shoes which were worn by women working in the bogs.  The platform allowed the worker to walk in the bog without damaging the cranberries or flowers.

Bog Shoes

This is an old group picture of some of the women employees.  I think I would have tried to get a job in the office!  Talk about cold work!

Cranberry Pickers

The highlight of the museum is a locked, dust free room, created to house the lens from the Disappointment Point Lighthouse.  Its a fitting setting for this 19th Century work of art.  Upon entering the room the museum docent turns a switch which causes the lens to light up and turn, as it did when operational.

Fresnel lens from Disappointment Point Lighthouse near Long Island, Washington

A walk on the harbor before heading home.  This is a working harbor and you can buy fresh fish and crab right off the boats.

Fishing Boats

Westport has some nice places to stay and cute restaurants.  It would be an ideal place to bring a bicycle or just a chair and sit on the bluff overlooking the water.  The residents are a bit noisy but they settle down after dark.

Looking for a hand-out