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Historic Adventures of a Lighthouse on South Oregon Coast: Coquille River Light at Bandon

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By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Historic Adventures of a Lighthouse on South Oregon Coast: Coquille River Light at Bandon

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(Bandon, Oregon) – For over 125 years now, this sentinel has stood guard over the southern Oregon coast town of Bandon with a rusty kind of dignity and a stern resolve. It's been through a lot over the decades and managed to stand tall in spite of storms, vandals and even a ship slamming into it. (Above: courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more)

At Bandon's Coquille River, the Coquille River Lighthouse no longer lights up the skies, yet it remains a stalwart example of the south coast's history and as a testament to those who served over its 80 years as a functioning light station.

It all began in the 1850s when the town was initially called Averill, but by 20 years later so many Irish had moved here that it acquired the name Bandon after an area in that homeland. Meanwhile, the rivermouth here was always a hazard in one way or another, and channeling and a jetty finally opened that up for more and safer shipping lanes. This soon required a warning system that land was there as well as the opening to the river, so after some financial wrangling and a year of construction, the Coquille River Lighthouse fired up its lamp for the first time in early 1896.

Courtesy Bandon Historical Society Museum

The following day a snowstorm hit and the adventures began. The first lightkeepers here – recently transferred from Florence's Heceta Head light – had to also utilize the fog horn immediately.

Thereafter, its signature of 28 seconds of light and 2 seconds of eclipse flashed on for decades.

Come 1901, fencing and a wooden walkway were added to protect the keeper's quarters and other facilities from getting buried by constantly-building sands. In 1903, an abandoned schooner actually rammed the lighthouse, causing some damage. By 1910, a generational tradition began as the first of the Langlois family began serving there as a keeper, with other descendants doing the same. You might know that name from the little town nearby.

Courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

At one point, about 1916, funds were allocated to actually move the lighthouse to the tip of the south jetty. However, that plan was stopped and the money used to implement a fog horn system on the south jetty.

Oscar Langlois, the first of them, wound up falling from the top of the lighthouse while washing its windows, hitting the rocks and breaking his ankle in 1932, the local paper reported. A man from Portland came in as a temporary replacement while Langlois healed.

Then came the great fire tragedies of the Oregon coast, with 1936 nearly burning Bandon to the ground. Only 16 of the town's 500 structures survived. Those already sick and in the hospital were moved to the lighthouse and sheltered there while the fire raged and during the aftermath.

Soon after, time came to a close for the Coquille River Lighthouse at Bandon. An automated light nearby replaced the old lighthouse in 1939 and it was decommissioned. There it sat abandoned for over two decades, with storms, time and even vandals taking a heavy toll on the structure.

Courtesy Bandon Historical Society Museum

The 1940s did see some shifting of the new light system to a spot even further away from the old lighthouse.

In the '70s, as Bullards Beach State Park was created, Oregon officials included the lighthouse in the new south coast park's boundaries, and the responsibility for taking care of it fell into Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department's lap. Yet by this time, all the damage to the Coquille River Lighthouse was too much for one agency to deal with, so other partners in the refurbishment of the historic building were brought on and massive restoration projects began in 1976. Roofing was repaired, new bricks had to replace old ones, and to the great delight of tourists to the south Oregon coast this lighthouse was open to the public.

Since the town of Bandon turned 100 in 1991, the centennial for the lighthouse was celebrated then, and further restoration projects happened. Another big one took place in 2007, and since then other sizable projects keep popping up. That part of the story of the south Oregon coast's Coquille River Lighthouse will likely be around as long as it is.

Later, the latest challenge was to reopen the lighthouse to tours again as before COVID. That finally happened in 2022.

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