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Oregon History Made as Coastal Lighthouse Near Florence Celebrates 130 Years

Published 3/26/24 at 3:25 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Florence, Oregon) – One of the most photographed landmarks on the Oregon coast turns 130 years old on March 30, and it's throwing its own birthday party that day.

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Heceta Head Lighthouse was first lit on March 30 of 1894, and Saturday means tours of the BnB Lightkeeper's quarters, live music, a raffle drawing with prizes, free hot dogs and even an Easter Egg hunt at 11 a.m. The entire celebration begins then and lasts for awhile, though tours end at 3 p.m. See hecetaheadlighthouse or call 541-547-5490

The occasion brings pause to look back at its history.

Construction started on the landmark in 1892, and it was first lit some two years later on March 30, 1894.

Coverage from local newspapers was an interesting mix of spotty and occasional, and then sometimes odd minutia. Like the small piece in Eugene-Register Guard in September of 1892, which noted how construction was going. The firm Montgomery & Page had brought 64 men to that spot, “removing the earth and rocks which were recently precipitated into the light tower site, also the finishing up of the keepers' houses, oil houses and cisterns.”

Crews were working day and night clearing dirt from the area.

Then, the newspaper goes on to note how one of the workmen lost a wheelbarrow over the edge of the rocks, plunging 200 feet. It “was a few days later picked up on the beach ten miles this side of Heceta in perfect good order.”

Not exactly breaking news, but you could make the pun it was “earth-shaking.”

According to the Albany Weekly Herald in 1894, the first crew consisted of head lightkeeper A.P.C. Hold with first assistant Eugene M. Walters. Second assistant keeper was John M. Cowan from Roseburg. Together, the trio launched the lighthouse into history.

Over its time of service, it gazed out upon shipwrecks, including some dramatic ones. It hosted a few oddball situations – like the rumor of the “imploding whale.” [Before Exploding Whale, Legend of Oregon Coast's Imploding Whale ] Most notably, it remains the only lighthouse on this coastline that still has its lightkeepers quarters. All those lighted towers at Newport, Cape Meares, Cape Blanco near Port Orford or the one at Bandon lost theirs decades ago.

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The Heceta Head Lighthouse has an interesting connection to the area's most legendary lighthouse: Tillamook Rock Light offshore from Cannon Beach / Seaside.

Oswald Allik served on both lighthouses as a head lightkeeper until their end, closing out the last log entry on the remote lighthouse in 1957. In 1961, he was the last to close out Heceta Head as it turned all electric.

During his time there, a major storm and landslide hit the lighthouse, resulting in the only time its light went out in all those years of service. See Surprisingly, One Man Connects Oregon Coast Lighthouses at Heceta Head, Terrible Tilly

After its official shutdown, it eventually opened back up as a tourist attraction. However, tours to the top via the long, spiral staircase stopped in the 2010s as did any tours of the interior. Officials said they discovered the old stairway unable to take that strain any longer.

Other interesting incidents occurred there as well, including having to blast away part of the rock below for safety reasons, and puffins disappearing from this spot.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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