Grays Harbor Lighthouse is dedicated on June 30, 1898.

  • By William S. Hanable
  • Posted 7/08/2004
  • Essay 5715

On June 30, 1898, ship builders, sea captains, government officials, merchants, fishing boat operators, and lumber tycoons gather at Westport to dedicate the 107-foot Grays Harbor Lighthouse. This is the tallest light in Washington and it marks the entrance to the best of Washington's few outer-coast (on the Pacific Ocean) harbors.

When the United States Coast Survey began its investigations of America's Pacific shoreline between San Francisco and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1850, the surveyors quickly identified Grays Harbor as a port with potential. Located about 40 miles north of the entrance to the Columbia River and 93 miles south of the entrance to Puget Sound, the large protected bay gave access to the Chehalis River. The river, in turn, was navigable some distance toward the timber-rich mountainsides of the Olympic Peninsula and the potential farmlands of the valleys and foothills below those peaks.

By 1890, Grays Harbor was becoming America's leading lumber port. Shipyards burgeoning in Grays Harbor towns launched nine steamers and three sailing vessels that year, while 13 mills exported 66-million-feet of lumber on 256 vessels. In addition, the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Grays Harbor as the western end of its transcontinental rail line. In 1892, it completed tracks to the new town of Ocosta-by-the-Sea, a few miles east of Point Hanson. Although the Northern Pacific soon abandoned Ocosta as a rail terminus, economic development continued as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to pour millions of dollars into improving Grays Harbor navigability.

Construction of the Grays Harbor Light began in 1897. Thirteenth Lighthouse District officials selected a site facing the Pacific Ocean, about 400 feet from water's edge and two-and-one-half-miles south of the extreme tip of Point Hanson, or Point Chehalis as it was coming to be known.

By the late 1960s, when the Coast Guard automated the light, the shifting sea and sands had increased the beach, and the lighthouse stood 3,000 feet from water's edge, surrounded by scrubby beach pines. In 1977, the lighthouse achieved listing on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1992, a small electronic optical device supplanted Henri LePaute's Fresnel lens, although the 1895 mechanism remained in place at the top of the lighthouse. Throughout the 1990s, visitors continued to come to the lighthouse. Volunteers from the Westport-South Beach Historical Society, which does business as the Westport Maritime Museum, often provided informal tours.

In 1998, Coast Guard officials granted the Maritime Museum formal license to conduct tours of Grays Harbor Lighthouse. In June 2004, the Coast Guard transferred ownership to the Maritime Museum, which opens it to visitors on a daily basis in summer and on weekends in most winter months.

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Grays Harbor Lighthouse" (by William S. Hanable), (accessed July 2004).

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