Cape Blanco Heritage Society
Cape Blanco Lighthouse by Eadweard Muybridge
Photo: Eadweard Muybridge

Cape Blanco Light Station

The Cape Blanco Light Station was built on 47.7 acres of land. A two-family dwelling was built for keepers' quarters, with fireplaces in each room for heat. Several small buildings were constructed to house oil and other necessities. Most materials used for construction were shipped in, however, the bricks were made locally. Lt. Col. R.S. Williamson was the engineer of record. The light station was completed and H. Burnap was hired as the first Keeper. On the eve of December 20, 1870, the Fresnel lens was lit for the first time.

This isolated lighthouse holds at least five Oregon records: it is the oldest continually operating light, the most westerly, it has the highest focal plane above the sea, (appox. 250 feet), and Oregon’s first female keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton signed on in March 1903.

Cape Blanco’s history is full of shipwrecks and lives saved. One notable shipwreck was the "J.A. Chanslor" (an oil tanker) in 1919. Of the 39 passengers, only 3 survived the collision with an offshore rock.

James Langlois and James Hughes were Cape Blanco’s most distinguished keepers. (Hughes was the second son of Patrick and Jane Hughes, whose 2,000-acre ranch bordered the Light Station property.) They both served their entire careers at Cape Blanco, Langlois 42 years and Hughes 37 years. The keeper job included keeping the light working from sunset to sunrise. Langlois, Hughes and many other keepers for the Light-House Service diligently kept the lamps burning, and the huge Fresnel lens polished until the U.S. Coast Guard took over in 1939. The station was later automated and abandon in 1979. The last known "keeper," stationed at Cape Blanco for grounds keeping and security purposes, left in December of 1987. The original lens was a first order ("orders" being a size classification) fixed non-rotating Fresnel lens. The lens probably had drum shaped panels to provide the steady beam of light that was Cape Blanco’s original signal.

Light lists were published so mariners could identify the lights and their signals. Sometime after the 1911 Light List was published, Cape Blanco’s signal changed. The new signal provided flashes of light, instead of a steady beam. The change was accomplished by using a clockwork system that lowered a shield around the light source at intervals to provide the flash. This change added "winding clockworks" to the keepers' list of duties.

In early 1936, the lighthouse was electrified, and the actual lens was replaced with an eight sided, rotating lens, built in France by Henry-LePaute. The new lens coupled with the speed it turned, provided a flash of light every 20 seconds.

The second lens is a second order lens. Cape Blanco’s lens measures 4’8" in diameter and 6’8" in height. We do not know what happened to the original lens after it was shipped to the Tongue Point (Astoria) depot by way of the steamer "Manzanita."

A 1,000-watt incandescent bulb replaces Cape Blanco’s soot producing oil lamps of old. Gone are the keepers who spent hours polishing the magnificent lens and winding the clockworks. Today, it rotates with the help of a 120-volt, 75-rpm electric motor, specially manufactured for lighthouse duty. The electrified light flashes it's 320,000 candlepower beam, 1.8 seconds bright (flash) every 18.2 seconds.

Today thousands of visitors make this trip to view the lighthouse.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse is open to the public through a cooperating agreement between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Coquille Indian Tribe, Curry County and the Cape Blanco Heritage Society.