Point Cabrillo Lighthouse


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March 22, 2016 Resembling an old fashioned country church, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is situated a little north of Mendocino, California.  Built in 1909, the lighthouse was allowed to fall into disrepair until it was purchased in 1988 by The California State Coastal Preserve.  Since that time the lighthouse, the three lighthouse keepers homes and the blacksmith shop have been restored.   In 1999 the original 3rd order Fresnel lens was reactivated after being taken apart, cleaned and repaired.  We’ve visited many lighthouses on the west coast and this is one of the most beautifully restored.

We made two treks to this lighthouse during our visit to Ft. Bragg.  The first was on a sunny March afternoon and we were able to photograph the grounds, scenery and buildings on a day that was not too busy with visitors.  We returned on Saturday March 19th, which was a cloudy, rainy day.  There are only eight days a year in which the public is allowed to view the lens up close and this was one of them.

Its a half mile walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse.


As everywhere along the North Coast the setting is dramatic and ever changing.

Overcast day
Sun filled day




A Celebrated Beginning

On April 24, 1909, 30-40 neighbors were invited by Chief Lighthouse Keeper, Wilhelm Baumgartner, to a midnight dinner on the occasion of the first lighting.  According to the Mendocino Beacon this was “a social good time”.  The account states in flowery, old fashioned language, “…the fog was good and thick on the night of that date so there was ample excuse for putting the fog horn to work, and permitting the “gentle zephyrs” to waft the “soft strains” of the symphoinious horn to the rhythmical ears of the sleeping residents within a radius of a half-score of miles.  The fog was too dense for the light to penetrate very far, but the horn bellowed loud enough to make up for it.  The start was made at the hour of midnight.”IMG_5083

Wilhelm Baumgartner served as Head Lighthouse Keeper until his death in 1923.  He earned $750 a year.


In 1911 Wilhelm married Lena Seman who was daughter of the Mendocino blacksmith.

Lena Baumgartner
Head Lightkeeper’s Home

A Family Affair

At Point Cabrillo the lighthouse keepers were family men.  There was a school for the children in nearby Pine Grove.  It wasn’t isolated as many lighthouses were.  At Point Cabrillo supplies were available, as there was a large logging community.

Second Assistant Lighthouse Keepers Home. The roofs were painted red for day time visibility from the ocean


Third Lightkeepers House

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The lighthouse keeper families grew their own vegetables and kept animals for food.


Their homes were large and comfortable

Living Room
The restored blacksmith shop in the forefront. A barn was burned down by the fire department many years ago in a training exercise.

An Opium Runner’s End

Shipwreck of The Frolic

All lighthouses have stories of storms and lost ships.  Pt. Cabrillo had its share of tragedies but the most famous is the Wreck of The Frolic, which occurred in June, 1850, on these rocks right below the lighthouse.IMG_0027

The Frolic

The Frolic was an American built clipper ship which originally was used to transport opium from India to China.  She was headed to San Francisco with a cargo of Chinese silk, china, food and beer.  After crashing on these rocks she was abandoned but the goods were salvaged by The Pomo people, who lived on the Mendocino coast at that time.  This crash was the beginning of the end for the Pomo and the giant redwoods which lined the coast at that time.  A search party sent from San Francisco to salvage the wreckage found little left of the ship’s cargo, but discovered instead the majestic trees which had stood for thousands of years.  Soon logging began in the area and life changed forever.  In the 1990’s an archeological team from San Jose State were digging for Indian artifacts when they unearthed cargo from The Frolic.  Some of these artifacts, are on display in the Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse Museum.

Silk Fan from China
Canon from The Frolic

On our second visit to the lighthouse we got our tickets to see the lens up close right away and got in line.  As seen in this photo it was a lot more crowded than on the first visit.

A docent is relaxing on the rails. He must have done this for a long time.

Fresnel lens were made in six sizes.  These were classified as orders.  The one in this light house is a 3rd order.  The order determined the distance the beam of light could be seen.  This clock is on display but is not the original one used at Pt. Cabrillo.  There was a 92 lb weight attached to the clock which had to be wound every 1 hr 45 min using a handle crank.

Winding the clock was a tiring difficult job

This lens was manufactured in England, a surprise fact to me as I thought all Fresnel lens were made in France.  According to a docent the English managed to spy on the French manufacturer and began making lens themselves.  The English lens have a yellow tint and the French have a green tint. IMG_5149

The lens had to be cleaned each day.  The lens would be opened using this handle and a small person would climb inside and polish each piece of glass.


Its possible to see the Number 5 in the intersecting corners of the brass.  This was for assembly purposes when the light was put together on site.


We saw a few whale spouts while up by the lens.  It was fun to show them to a guy who had never spotted a whale before.  I remember my excitement the first time I saw one.


I do love a visit to a lighthouse!