Scenic USA - Oregon

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

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Tillamook Rock and Light Station - Clatsop County, Oregon

Photos by Andy Cook
Andy Cook Photography

     There are eleven lighthouses along Oregon's coast, an essential component for 19th century navigation of this long, rocky and often fogged in shoreline. Most are still active today and seven are open to the public. None have had such a bad reputation as Terrible Tilly, the northernmost lighthouse on the 350 mile seacoast. Built on a chunk of basalt just over a mile offshore, construction of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse started off on bad note. Sent to investigate and survey the site, John Trewavas was killed by an unforgiving sea. An unenviable task, quarrymen struggled to finish the light station in a year and a half. Officially lit on January 21, 1881, at the time it was the most expensive West Coast lighthouse ever built.
     Because of the hazardous conditions, where waves often shattered the glass in the 62-foot tower, no families were permitted to stay on the island. A crew of four men stayed at the light station, rotating one man out every three weeks. The fresh and rested light keeper brought with him mail and supplies. The rectangular keeper's quarters, measuring 85 by 40 feet, survived constant battering and flooding until 1896 when a 135 pound rock smashed through the roof and dropped into the kitchen. Tillamook Rock and Light Station - Clatsop County, Oregon Having undergone numerous repairs, its 77 years of service ended in 1957, holding the dubious honor as the most expensive U.S. lighthouse to operate. Left to the elements for 20 years, the light station was turned over to a private firm. The lighthouse was renovated and converted to a columbarium cemetery in 1980. Dubbed Eternity at Sea, the light station became a storage house for cremated human remains.
     Today, Tillamook Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and remains a haven for nesting birds, such as common murres and cormorants. Off limits to the public, the light station is visible from the coastal cities of Seaside and Cannon Beach. Straight off the coast from Ecola State Park, the Cannon Beach Trail offers some of the closest views for lighthouse fans and photographers.

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