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Quirky to Obscure Rumors and History of N. Oregon Coast's Cape Meares Lighthouse

Published 09/26/22 at 6:20 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Quirky, Even Obscure Rumors and History of N. Oregon Coast's Cape Meares Lighthouse

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(Oceanside, Oregon) – Just outside of Oceanside, along the north Oregon coast's Three Capes Tour, Cape Meares Lighthouse has had its share of adventures, including its exhausting, complex construction (transporting materials in and out was a mess). But there are some funky little tidbits in its history, stuff that is sometimes even a tad amusing. (Photos and story copyright Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

There are other tales from the lofty place, sitting more than 200 feet high on that incredible cliff, that are not well known.

The beloved north Oregon coast lighthouse went online in 1890. One interesting fact not many know, Cape Meares Lighthouse was originally built at 23 feet high, not its current 38 feet.

For maybe close to a century, rumors swirled around the Oregon coast icon that it was mistakenly built on Cape Meares, and supposedly was intended for Cape Lookout to the south. The story goes that charts from those early days were a little mixed up, and the names were supposedly swapped on them. So when builders were instructed to build on Cape Lookout, they built on Cape Meares instead of the real Cape Lookout.

However, that infamous mistake was itself a mistake: that was just not true. The Friends of Cape Meares Lighthouse notes that surveys done in 1886 of both capes show there was no mix up in the names.

That rumor, according to the Friends, likely came from the fact it was truly named Cape Lookout originally in 1788, by explorer Captain John Meares. But in the 1850s, two charts were produced that called the headland to the south Cape Lookout.

According to the Friends:

“George Davidson, an officer with the Coast Survey, decided it would be easier to rename the original Cape Lookout than correct the maps, and in 1857 he renamed it Cape Meares.”

Essentially, though Cape Meares was originally called Cape Lookout, that was changed shortly before construction of the lighthouse.

In any case, surveyors thought Meares would make a better lighthouse locale because it was lower, thereby the lights would better pierce fog, and because it was closer to Tillamook Bay.

Meares was a bit of a dashing figure, it seems, though he tried to avoid conflict on the open seas. He carried flags of several nations to keep clear of naval battles, and this had advantages in the trade biz as well. However, his mission down the future west coast of the U.S. was a bit of a boo boo. He sailed right past the Columbia River and failed to discover it – the coveted “western passage” everyone thought existed at the time (and which Lewis & Clark were sent to piece together topographically).

Meares also failed to grasp Tillamook Bay: he thought it was a landlocked area. On top of that, he named it Quicksand Bay, a moniker which did not stick. Tillamook Coast could've been – gasp – the Quicksand Coast.

Another boo boo related to Meares appeared in early 1963, when the Three Capes Loop was finished – but the signs put up by the state read Cape Mears. There was no second E. Oops.

Amusingly, newspapers in 1963 also noted the road sign to Cape Meares Light Station had “holidays” spelled wrong in its hours listing: it read “hollidays.” Oops again.


Cape Meares Lighthouse under a remodel in the early 2000s

In January of 1963, it was announced that Cape Meares would go automated.

“After 73 years of continuous operation,” reported the Statesman Journal at the time, “Cape Meares is going to be made automatic.”

It would do so on April 1. The two resident light keepers and their families were sent to other places.

The old lamp had a quick red flash every 60 seconds, with white in between. The red had 160,000 candlepower while the white had 180,000.

More power was coming, now making it 2 million candlepower to the white, which would flash every 15 seconds and a visibility of 17 miles.

Cape Meares Lighthouse was elongated by 15 feet to do this, then standing 232 feet above the ocean.

Still at that time, in the early '60s, rumors persisted that Cape Meares Lighthouse was built in the wrong spot, and the paper noted that historians believed that to be so back then.

Some tales take awhile to die. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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